Youth Converts Culture

A remarkable transformation took place in Perry County this summer in a group of students and teachers, who for one week were empowered to harness digital technology to lead positive change. Students learned to become constructive contributors online – not just observers – and their horizons were broadened well beyond Perry County.

Facilitated by A+ Education Partnership, the Youth Converts Culture summer learning camp demonstrated that when students use technology tools in school, rather than just after school, the impact on their learning and interest increases. Consequently, the participating teachers learned how to effectively utilize technology that is now second nature to today’s students to expand this revolution in classroom teaching and learning.

Education technology expert Marc Prensky, who coined the phrase “digital natives,” would agree. “To create effective 21st-century learning, it is not just our tools that need to change—it is our thinking. We need to integrate technology in a manner that not only allows students to do “old” things (such as writing or research) in new ways but, far more important, also enables our students to do new things, in new ways, and get a different, and better, education because of the technology. (Amplify website, 2012)

After getting through the first-day of camera jitters, the students teachers recorded many powerful statements as they opened up to more innovative thinking and collaboration. Their final project was a worldwide release of a video titled “Eradicating Complacency,” which they produced with the help of the Youth Converts Culture co-creators, Beth Sanders and Daniel Whitt.

“We wanted to show students how they can use the powerful, digital tools in their hands to come together as a community, have their voices heard, and make a lasting impact in the world,” said Whitt, an English and broadcast journalism teacher in Madison City, AL where he helped his students at Liberty Middle School create the “I’m Human” video that went viral on YouTube (over 124,000 hits). He now teaches at James Clemons High School.

To the students, “Eradicating Complacency” starts with them – by getting personally involved and never ceasing to pursue their goals.

“I believe it means destroying the sense of not caring,” said one of the 27 students who took part of this first-ever summer enrichment camp. “People think our generation doesn’t care, but we want to overload the world with good.”

Another student exclaimed, “No change can happen unless it begins in me.”

The idea for the camp came as a result of the “I’m Human” video being shown during an education retreat of Leadership Alabama Class XXII. Class member Michael Patterson, Vice President of Legal Services with Blue Cross Blue Shield, was so inspired by the video and Daniel Whitt’s enthusiasm, he helped organize 22 of his fellow members to raise over $26,000, the entire funding needed for the YCC camp.

With this financial support and A+ coordinating the effort, Whitt and Sanders were given the opportunity to create the camp, which they say is designed to bridge the apparent gap between “technology and humanity.”

“This is not happening anywhere else,” said Sanders, a social studies teacher from Tarrant High School in Jefferson County. “These students are real trailblazers!”

Judson College in Marion, Alabama, hosted the camp and made their facilities available for the entire week. While on campus each day, students created a video blog to capture some of their key ideas and thoughts. Their phenomenal growth, progression and change in perspective is evident from Day #1 of the video blog to the final “Manifesto.”

As the students, teachers and leaders Tweeted all week, their activities peaked the interest of their Congresswoman, Terri Sewell, and national media publishers Huffington Press, on their HuffPost Teen blog, and writer Barbara Cervone of

“At the end of the camp’s first day, they turned the camera on the students and asked for their thoughts, hopes and fears — which resulted in the powerful video that caught our attention at HuffPost Teen.”

Sanders explained that these small-town kids no longer feel isolated from the world outside their community, and they realize they can actually become contributors and drivers of positive change.

“When students realize they have an audience, they are more reflective and conscientious of what they write and say, enhancing their language art skills.

“This is just one example of how technology can be incorporated into pedagogy to enhance the learning experience,” said Sanders. “The teachers that participated worked alongside their students so that they are equipped to use technology more effectively in their classrooms.”

During the final celebration, which was streamed live online, Perry County superintendent John Heard pleded his support for the use of devices in meaningful ways. “You (referring to the student-produced video) will be our keynote speaker at our next teacher inservice,” he said.

“We often hear that the reasons we can’t have technology in our schools is lack of money,” said Whitt. “But the reality is that technology is already in our schools. The digital age is here, and even students in the smallest communities have some type of digital device available to them. So why not use them in innovative ways in the classroom?”

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