In 1999, I was a graduate student at Stanford studying youth language, learning, and culture, and I had a fellowship that allowed me, for the first time, not to work for the university to earn my stipend. My research interests centered on non-school literacies and youth arts production, which aligned in obvious ways with Youth Radio’s mission. I also have a background as a visual artist and had recently completed work on a video documentary about youth, art, and community development. Then I heard a Youth Radio story on the air, and when the host announced that the organization was located in Berkeley, California, just across the bridge from my home in San Francisco, I decided to volunteer. Having spent the previous several years deciphering texts about education and taking notes about youth learning, I was eager to put down my notebook and actually do some work with kids. And with my own writing growing increasingly dense with every year of graduate school, the idea of producing for radio, with its creative use of sound, emotion, and conversational voice, held great appeal.
Initially, I helped teach writing two afternoons per week. After finishing my dissertation, I began working more deeply with the youth development department, while also leading a national broadcast series on the impact of standardized testing on students in public school classrooms. As my participation in Youth Radio evolved, so too did my interest in imagining a career pathway that would allow me to continue to collaborate in a hands-on way producing original media with young people, while drawing on that work in my writing and university teaching. Today I am Youth Radio’s Education Director and a Senior Producer in the newsroom, while continuing to write and sometimes teach, most recently at University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. In my urban education course there, I opened almost every session with a Youth Radio story. For their final assignment, my graduate students translated their classroom ethnographies into radio commentaries performed for their peers. I came to Youth Radio initially thinking I could help teach kids to write, and in the end their writing products and methods have taught me how to be a better storyteller and better teacher.