28 New Mexican students decide to change the world.
"That seems like a lot of hard work."
A boy in wrinkled school uniform gave Louis Jencka a wary glance. Jencka, an eighth-grader at Rio Gallinas Public Charter School, leaned against a gnarled cedar, clipboard against knees, and added another line to his radio script with careful pencil. He answered his friend with a grin.
"It takes hard work to change the world. But it's worth it."
Jencka and his fellow seventh and eighth grade students at Rio Gallinas School intend to change the world with their new internet-based radio series, United World Radio. The school bases its curriculum on Expeditionary Learning, an approach that combines rigorous academic content and real world projects with community service. The school's current expedition theme focuses on "Cultivators of Hope" - people and organizations who are working toward creating a more just and sustainable world. Past expeditions have explored local history through the eyes of the El Porvenir hermit, and a semester-wide intensive study on chimpanzees which culminated in students raising five thousand dollars to save a group of laboratory testing animals.
"The driving force behind our work is authenticity," says teacher John McLeod. "Our students know that everything they do in school has meaning. They know that they can make a real difference in the world."
The seventh and eighth grade, a combination class of twenty-eight students from diverse family backgrounds and education levels, began their expedition with a three-day immersion trip through northern New Mexico where they interviewed scientists, activists, and artists. Students carried laptops equipped with hand-held microphones and composed their own interview questions.
"My favorite interview was Mark Nelson," explained seventh-grader Max Robertson. "He was one of the scientists who volunteered to be locked in Biosphere 2 for two full years. The word 'biosphere' wasn't known until his project took off. His work changed the way we think about our own biosphere, the earth."
In addition to Nelson, the students interviewed renowned pueblo artist and permaculturist Roxanne Swentzel, performing artists from the Wise Fool Theatre, Santa Fe youth activist Ana Gallegos, and Hog Farm hippie commune founding member Jean Nichols.
After their immersion trip, students used the recorded interviews to learn how to create and edit "podcasts" - internet-based radio programs. They built old-fashioned crystal radios using simple household items in order to understand the science of radio, and studied the history of communication from the first transmission through today.
Rio Gallinas students invited United World College students and faculty to nominate people and organizations who are making a difference in the world for inclusion in the final product of the expedition, a series of six forty-minute radio shows. Each program focuses on one of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights such as slavery and servitude, health, education, and personal freedoms. Students have organized into small groups, each composing several segments for their show including a science slice, a series of short interviews, and an in-depth look into the crisis and culture surrounding each chosen cultivator's work.
"My radio group is focusing on health issues," says eighth-grader Caitlin Leyba. We're focusing on an activist in Namibia who is working toward ending AIDS prejudice. We're studying the country of Namibia as well as the AIDS/HIV crisis. We're hoping our radio show will spread awareness."
NPR stations across the country have already expressed an interest in broadcasting United World Radio. Students expect their first shows to be online within a few weeks, with listeners able to listen at their website, unitedworldradio.com, or by downloading episodes through iTunes and other directories.
Eighth-grader Raquel Gallegos is working on a program focused around personal freedoms.
"Our central cultivator is the King of Bhutan. Most countries are concerned with their Gross National Product. In Bhutan, they created a new index, the Gross National Happiness Product. The king believes that citizens of any nation should be more concerned with how happy a life they have, not with how much they own. Maybe our show will help others learn about another culture and also help others think about what's most important in their life."
Mia Ortiz-Keeble, an eighth-grader working with Leyba on the health program, tapped the lid of her closed laptop.
"We live in New Mexico, but using the internet we can talk to anyone in the whole world. Our radio shows will help get the word out about people who are making a real difference."