Award: Action / $15,000
Purpose: To support a teen fellowship program that, using social and emotional learning lenses, teaches resiliency, emotion regulation, and empathy through literacy and digital media skills.
In Mighty Writers’ community storytelling fellowship, 60 New Jersey teenagers will learn to harness their voices, creativity, and cultures through modern storytelling techniques.
The project was first launched in the Spring of 2023 to provide unique opportunities for youth to learn from experts about journalism and community storytelling as they engage with other fellows to learn about their city’s beauty, pride and history.
According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, two decades of reading progress has been wiped out as a result of the pandemic, with a disproportionate impact among marginalized students of color. The genesis of the New Jersey Community Storytelling Fellowship resulted from ongoing efforts to use experiential learning experiences to motivate and generate excitement in youth about writing and storytelling.
The impacts of the pandemic-led virtual learning and social isolation were visible—increasing rates of youth mental health issues, social anxiety and lack of connection with peers and communities. The fellowship program aims to bridge the learning gap by offering equitable opportunities for youth to engage with their communities, learn from local experts and educators, and showcase their advocacy projects through digital media and modern storytelling.
The fellowship is the latest NJCH-funded, community-focused initiative of Mighty Writers, which previously received both an action grant and COVID-19 relief funds from NJCH.
“Using social and emotional learning (SEL) lenses, the program teaches resiliency and emotion regulation to develop empathy to learn about different cultures through literacy and digital media skills,” said Sukipa Shah, grants manager at Mighty Writers. “It also reduces the student achievement disparity by developing work-ready skills, fostering community belonging and increasing access to digital media and communication career opportunities.”
Operating in three locations—Camden, Newark, and Atlantic City—the program is open to all students in the program’s service areas. It is geared toward empowering students from BIPOC and other historically marginalized communities.
“The Spring 2024 cohorts are excited to share about their city. Our Camden fellows have selected a theme, ‘Do it Ourselves,’ this year. This theme highlights Camden’s resilience and determination, and our fellows are dedicated to sharing their digital stories to showcase what makes Camden, its residents, and their families worth celebrating,” added Shah.
Over the 16-week program, students will learn digital storytelling techniques and produce digital publications, social media content, and podcasts with guidance from facilitators with literacy and media production expertise.
In addition to skills, accepted fellows will earn up to $1,500 in scholarship funds upon program completion. Attendance and participation in the minimum commitment of two hours a week will be required to qualify for the scholarship funds.
Program activities will include:
- Working with journalists and civic leaders to create digital community storytelling projects highlighting broader societal topics.
- Practicing social and emotional learning to build resilience and regulate emotions.
- Interviewing residents and documenting their stories, building communication and writing skills
- Crafting public outreach campaigns to amplify community stories and reshape their city’s narratives
- Share civic pride and learn more about Philadelphia and New Jersey communities
- Following and learn from each other’s online content and create hashtags and pages for a social media campaign
- Celebrating the vibrancy and positivity of their neighborhoods
“Fellows will become experts on the ‘good news’ of their cities, becoming powerful communicators and ambassadors for their home cities and respective communities and have the opportunity to connect with local leaders, journalists, and makers throughout the city,” Shah said.
The fellowships are a natural expansion for Mighty Writers, which has operated programs since 2009 that teach children ages 3-17 to think clearly and write with clarity so they can achieve success at school, at work and in life. The organization’s programs aim to improve participants’ grades, self-esteem, and future life opportunities.
Their programming has become more critical since the COVID-19 pandemic, which compounded the effects of existing drivers of inequality affecting historically marginalized communities, including poverty, income disparity, lack of educational opportunity, and food insecurity.
During the pandemic, Black students fell behind in academic achievement by 10.3 months and Hispanic students by 9.2 months, resulting in a 15-20% increase in achievement gaps between kids in Mighty Writers’ core neighborhoods and their more affluent white peers.
“The fellowship program reduces the student achievement disparity by developing work-ready skills, fostering community belonging and increasing access to digital media and communication career opportunities,” Shah said. “Participants will emerge from intergenerational poverty and bring their skills and success back to their communities, building a legacy of emotional safety and resilience.”