Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by Vivien Santana Hughes
You wouldn’t be shocked if I told you teens – those eye-rolling, bigger beings your adorable kindergarteners will become – don’t listen to adults. They do listen to their peers, often to their parents’ chagrin. But there’s a positive side to that much maligned peer pressure when teens focus on serious issues affecting them. Especially when it’s done in a compelling, familiar medium: commercials. Namely, Public Service Announcements (PSAs).
Film and theater director David Zucker came up a plan to bring positive peer pressure and PSAs together. “I decided that it would be good to have students be the voice of some type of solution to an issue. What is their perspective? What is their take on it?” shares Zucker, who started working with L.A. students in 1998. “It goes back to that same concept of students influencing their peers.”
In 2009, Zucker launched Solutions for Peace Student PSA series, an enrichment program for mostly high school students, where he’s worked with a number of L.A.-area schools including Crossroads, Harvard Westlake, Culver City High School, Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College.
“PSA began as an environmental idea, but then it evolved into all the different social issues of addiction and bullying and gang prevention and child abuse,” says Zucker, who also founded Artist of Life Music & Films. “My main interest began with creativity and how young people have the power to affect other students with their work, to influence them and inspire them.”
View the students’ PSAs on the organization’s website and you immediately feel the impact this peer-to-peer communication can have. Some are surprisingly professional, others feel like the high-school project they are. All have the potential to spark important discussions.
What is your approach?
I’m very hands off. The teacher has an option to give [the PSA] as a homework assignment, as extra credit or let the students get the hours they need for community service. The goal is to create self empowerment. The students are the ones that have the vision; they have to find the resources. It’s really not about teaching them how to be filmmakers. It’s about enabling them to get their perspective out and document it. I show them how it can be done in five hours. ‘You have your idea. You do your research. You get a feeling for the issue. What could be a solution?’ For most of the students, the solution is just making the PSA.
Where are the PSAs shown?
The PSAs are available on our website [www.studentpsas.com] for students to use as a resource and opportunity to show their friends. Where they’re shown at this time is mostly in the schools – either in the classroom as part of our presentation or in our student-run assemblies. I produce it, but really it’s all about the students being role models at the assembly. They’re the hosts and talk about their work, show the PSAs, and take questions from the audience.
Share a favorite student story.
There are a lot of them! Their ideas and sensitivity, and their interest in trying to make a wrong right ... I’m just very encouraged by that. When this 14-year-old boy from Santa Monica, Matthew Mezza, took his life, two students, Chandler and Emily, did a mixture of a PSA/memorial for him. The mom who lost her son was very touched that they wanted to do that. There was another young lady who did a PSA on depression that was so intense, so eerie, like horror movie, a Hitchcock film. I had to ask her, ‘How did you come up with this? Is this you?’ She said, ‘No. Not at all. I don’t suffer from depression, but I know people who do.’ I was so touched. The students inspire me a lot.
Want to find out more or get involved? Visit www.studentpsa.com, email: email@example.com or call 310-273-1319.
Chat Room columnist Vivien Santana Hughes is a former L.A. Parent editor and the mother of three – two sons, a university grad and a college student, plus (surprise!) a 6-year-old daughter. She’s bracing herself to raise one more teen.
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