I was open to the possibility. That made all the difference. I was a new high school English teacher in 1997 and I observed student talents and strengths not honored by the curriculum or the classroom. So we started a radio station and built it all from scratch.
Particularly during free time, it was easily observed that our diverse student body tended to self-select groups based on affinities. The nerds nerded. The rockers rocked. The rappers rapped. This side-by-side existence ended with the radio station. Radio became the thing they all had in common. The techies were thrilled to have real content and real technical and engineering challenges to conquer. We found a way to build an ecosystem.
It seemed like everyone passed through our doors. Poets, singer-songwriters, freestylers, storytellers, folk duos, journalists, beatmakers, comedians, experimentalists, turntablists — we always said yes and there was always somebody right behind signing up for something else. They wanted to make quality content that was completely within their control. They wanted to share their work and get feedback from audiences that they would find and create. Others wanted to join the recording crew. Others wanted to take photographs. The more word spread about the project, the more jobs the students invented and the more recording time slots filled.
We started with an idea and made it a reality. We did it. We made it happen. We were scrappy. We found other people’s trash and made it our furniture and our recording equipment and our decorations. We broke everything and fixed it right back up. We took every computer and put it to use. If it was too old to handle recording software, we turned it into a slide viewer playing a continuous loop of pictures documenting our work.
We established ourselves and started writing grant proposals to local organizations and also to the school district. Teachers and administrators would walk through a small winding maze of artistically placed old computers all playing the looped slideshows and make their way to the recording booth. A neglected storage closet had become a cave of wonders. Our big moment came when we were selected by Power 106 FM Radio for our grant application. We drove to the studio to receive a $5,000 check on the air from Big Boy himself. (Photo pinned to my Twitter) The funds allowed us to upgrade so many different pieces of the studio and add new components we had only dreamed of acquiring.
As the ‘every spare moment not in class’ project grew from a corner of my English classroom to the storage closet and then to a larger portion of a new classroom computer lab that I inhabited as my regular English classroom, I also began the process of creating an official elective course that would count on students’ transcripts. With this kind of time in the school day, students would have five hours each week to work and I could dedicate myself properly to all of my other teaching duties.
This radio station grew and grew. With the independent study elective course, we were able to prepare for lunch time events and recording sessions. We could also more efficiently process, produce, and post the original student content to the Internet and the low-power FM radio signal transmitting from a PC tower. It was a passionate pursuit from all the students and they were truly better together — a diverse group of students that needed a common goal.
I look back and can clearly see the importance of both my willingness to be open to possibilities and my desire to help students see the power of their potential. I persisted with helping them to make an idea into a thriving community. The project started because I am interested in my students and I am always looking for ways to help put their original content on display at school. I have to be their advocate. I have to teach them to trust their creative energies.
Here is the very long sentence that I wrote many years ago. It helped us receive grant money, so it may be a good sentence. Feel free to use it for your own school radio station.
The purpose of the project is to provide musical, verbal, journalistic and creative opportunities for all students to actively participate with technology in ways that display those talents in which they excel, while sharing their unique perspectives and expressions with a global and real audience.
You can do it too! Create boldly.