Embracing everyone’s uniqueness and willingly sharing emotion and insight during uncertain times are components of a story told by a group of Thomas County Central High School Drama students. From Oct. 19-30, youth in teacher Gabrielle McMullen’s Period Fundamentals of Drama II, III and IV course participated in a special Digital Storytelling workshop.
“I wanted students to learn a new way of presenting a narrative other than plays and monologues,” McMullen said. “I think this workshop went beautifully. My students were so vulnerable and open with Mr. Doyle and in front of their peers.”
Offered by the Thomasville Center for the Arts, the guest artist and workshop facilitator was John Doyle, a digital storyteller who founded Arts Integration LLC. Doyle’s primary goal was to provide students a safe space and opportunity to process and express their experiences from the prior seven months.
“In these last seven months, we, as a country, have experienced a pandemic, racial protest and a vitriolic filled presidential election,” he said. “What has been left out of this conversation is the effect all this has had on our youth. This residency was an opportunity to shine a light on what our youth are collectively seeing and how they are processing it.”
Doyle feels youth cannot have adequate support if they aren’t understood properly. Hence the “You Belong Here” theme created by the TCA and the desire to have students create a digital story centered on it.
First, the workshop started with “You.” Doyle led various activities and discussions that focused students on exploring their experiences and sharing insight.
“It was individual and ensemble-based work,” he said. “This helped students to see each other in ways that they previously may not have.”
Next, Doyle did the same thing for “Here.”
“Students explored their thoughts of the environment of their school community, local community and society at large,” he said. “Based on those discussions, we then started to craft our story of what it means to belong or not belong to the school community, local community and the larger society... . The story also focused on reimagining a more inclusive society and what that would look like.”
Participant Janizhia Austin appreciated this opportunity.
“I loved it because it makes me feel that people can know how we feel inside,” the sophomore, 16, said. “So they can see stuff from our point of view.”
Junior Michael Diaz-Badillo, 16, enjoyed the digital storytelling and learned about the necessity to improve and take community needs and personal experience seriously.
“This was unique to anything I've ever done before in the classroom, and it helped a lot to talk about a lot of issues in our community,” he said.
Austin liked sharing with and supporting her fellow students.
“When being open with each other, we are telling a story to teach other people that they are not alone in this world,” she said.
Doyle hoped the youth would feel a sense of community within their class and gain personal affirmation of agency.
“I was hoping through the sharing of stories within the classroom that students would see that they are not alone in their experiences, and through the power of storytelling, they can now also take ownership of their personal story,” he said. “It is very liberating for students to take ownership of their own experience.”
McMullen’s students realized his hope and gained valuable insight from the workshop. The exercise was so popular, McMullen may incorporate digital storytelling into her class and add a unit on a play her students read.
Sophomore Shelby Bryant, 15, found the entire experience an emotional one and loved recording and making their story a reality.
“I feel better about myself because someone came to listen to us, specifically, and made us important,” she said. “I learned that it is OK to stand out and to be yourself. There are people who love me for who I am, and this will help me to be more confident in myself for future experiences.”
Austin learned that different doesn’t equal judgment.
“We shouldn't judge people because they are different,” she said. “You never know what other people are going through at all. And it shows us that many different people aren't like us. They don't need to change; they’re perfect just the way they are.”