Youth Music Exchange
Most classrooms in the United States look and function exactly as they did ten, twenty, fifty, even one hundred years ago: rows of desks, textbooks, a writing board, a teacher delivering content in front of the class. The result is what I call the "engagement gap": the needs of learners in the twenty-first century are not being served by traditional modes of curriculum, instruction, and schooling developed in the Industrial Age. My project--Youth Music Exchange--addresses the "engagement gap" in American education. I am establishing record labels inside schools, organized and managed by youths. The program establishes a mobile recording studio in the school that enables students to write, record, and distribute original music. Every youth record label forms four departments: music, production, art, and marketing. The program culminates with a music release party where youths promote their songs for local and global audiences. YME puts not only media but also the media network into the hands of learners in order to reinforce academic learning, social development, and career skills—all of which young people need for success in the modern world. In recognizing the importance of linking learning and life, YME reconnects children to education by transforming classrooms into recording studios and blank paper into business plans.
Youth Music Exchange launched with two sites in New York City and has since expanded to over 40 across the US and worldwide. We have youth record labels in Indianapolis, Chicago, and San Diego, all empowering underserved young people to take control of their lives, learning, and future careers. We are using the power of new technologies to expand our efforts around the world now, with our first international youth record label launched with teens in Zimbabwe. Their first record is a hit on the local charts there, and has since established the careers of several young producers and marketing agents. Recently, the Youth Music Exchange was incubated by the prestigious Mind Trust Fellowship in Educational Entrepreneurship. This two-year fellowship established YME in Indianapolis and has since led to the launch of over a dozen of record labels there. The success stories abound. One student named Steven, who was about to drop out of high school, said about YME in a documented interview: “This opportunity saved my life. If it wasn’t for the time I spent in the studio at school these years, I would be dead or in jail. No question.” And a teacher named Randall who led YME at his school in Indy said: "“YME transformed how I teach, and in many ways it transformed this school.” YME continues to expand around the US and around the world. We are launching youth record labels in Decatur, AL; Syracuse, NY; Columbus, OH...and more and more.
The Fearless Changemaker
I have worked to establish creativity at the core of teaching and learning for the most vulnerable youths in the United States and around the world. My projects have impacted more than 100,000 underserved youths and have been featured by the Washington Post, NPR, New York Times, National Public Radio, and Associated Press. I received the Distinguished Alumni Early Career Award from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have published books by Harvard Education Press and Teachers College Press; I am on the faculties at Ramapo College in New Jersey, and Teachers College, Columbia University in NYC. I am working on YME with an amazing team. Dr. Bill McKinney is a renowned leader in educational research and dropout prevention. The Philadelphia school district appointed Dr. McKinney as the head of the city’s African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce, which was launched to study and make recommendations for addressing the educational needs of the city’s most at-risk youths. Dr. Shaila Mulholland has been studying and implementing strategies for college access for underserved youths for more than a decade. A particular realm of interest is Dr. Mulholland’s research on distance learning and how technology can influence college access and increased student success. Dr. Valita Jones is an experienced educator and community activist who is leading the West Coast expansion of YME. She has established college and community partnerships that are leading our next wave.