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HYPE: Context and Method of Study

HYPE is a collaboration between a hospital, a college, and other community arts partners. The program offers high school—age youth opportunities to engage in social change and public advocacy through leadership development, digital storytelling, the performing arts, and documentary work. Participants live in the predominantly low-i ncome and racially diverse neighborhoods of center city Allentown.5 Our study focuses on program activities during summer 2009, when 11 youth—6 Latino and 5 African American—between the ages of 15 and 20 participated in HYPE. The group consisted of three young men and eight young women. We also gathered qualitative data during the yearlong after-school program with a smaller group of continuing HYPE students. One of us (Taub-Pervizpour) is chair of the Media and Communication Department where HYPE is located and has partnered with HYPE for five years; the other author (Disbrow) is a recent college graduate who served HYPE as a media education assistant from June 2009 to May 2010. The study draws on the qualitative methods of participant observation and documentary fieldwork and includes data from field notes written by the researchers and other HYPE staff members, a range of documentary sources, and unstructured interviews conducted by Disbrow with three HYPE students (Alysia, age 16; Jessie, age 16; and Shaniqua, age 18). In-depth interviews were conducted with Jenna Azar, the HYPE program coordinator, and with education scholar Michael Carbone, who, as chair of the education program at Muhlenberg College, has extensive knowledge of the Allentown School District. We also look closely at the documentary video produced by the HYPE teens in summer 2009, Roots of Change, which provides important insights for considering the limits and potentials of youth media in Allentown.6

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