Newsletter Launch! A little about Our History…

This past week, we launched our Monthly Newsletter.  Join us on the 15th of each month to get the snapshots of our journey!  We’ll connect you here for more details!  Here is the contents of our first issue:

Unlocking Silent Histories Monthly Newsletter!

Welcome!!! Thank you for joining us.  Each month as we share our stories and progress.  We are excited to keep you informed of our ongoing journey with indigenous youth. For our inaugural newsletter edition, we want to start out with a little history about how Unlocking Silent Histories (USH) began.

Our Story: In 2012, our founder and director Donna DeGennaro took a a leave of absence from her tenure-track University position with the vision of reinvigorating her passion for her work.  Since her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, she had been working toward a pedagogical design that was youth-driven and focused on digital media technologies.  She was primarily concerned with the deficit ways that culturally diverse youth were educated and the negative media representations that seemed to help reinforce this assumption.  Donna’s approach to her work is “constructivist”, which means that she always includes the voices of youth, whose ideas contributed to the unfolding concept or learning design.

Donna’s hiatus from the university took her to Guatemala where she was expecting to expand her research in a small private school.  When obstacles thwarted that that possibility, she was initially dismayed.  Yet, as fate would have it, she found herself serendipitously in the right place at the right time!  When all seemed doomed, Donna met with then Director of the Maya Traditions Foundation, Marcelle.  Marcelle was eager for Donna to do work with the youth Maya Traditions supported and invited Donna to begin visiting their communities and meetings. It was a match!  Shortly after, Donna got to work not only on her concept, but also on solidifying her idea as a non-profit.  It was with this seed that Unlocking Silent Histories (USH) was born.

USH started as a pilot program in 2012 in collaboration with the Maya Traditions Foundation (MTF). With the generous support of MTF, Donna began implementing the pedagogy that she had been developing for many years with youth in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.  The MTF Director and Donna collaboratively decided to start the program with a small group of youth in the rural community of Chirijox. For five months, Marisol (MTF Programs Coordinator) and Donna met the youth once a week in a small home in the mountains.  The trek from Panajachel to Chirijox was anything but easy, requiring crowded buses that moved rapidly up steep and windy hills and two transfers, once in the town of Sololá and then in Los Encuentros.   Donna carried two backpacks filled with cameras, computers, chargers, and other materials, determined to initiate this program.The youth engaged in what Donna calls an emergent learning environment.  This means that there is not a written script or set curriculum, instead, learning is a grassroots endeavor that starts with youths’ ideas, traditions and cultures. Specifically, the youth identify personally meaningful and community-connected topics, generate questions, and move through their learning as they define what they

need to know.  After gathering data, they analyze it and decide what they need to learn next.  It is an organic engagement that is flexible so that they can have the agency to draw upon their cultural knowledge and languages to have a personally meaningful experience.  Youth then were in charge of their research, their stories, and ultimately the short documentaries they create to share their learning.
Everything seemed to fall into place: enthusiastic youth, a supportive partner organization, and the resources to begin our journey through a successful Kickstarter Campaign.  This inspired Donna to apply for non-profit status under the name of Unlocking Silent Histories.  Unlike Donna’s previous work with the broader focus on the underserved youth population, USH would center its efforts on working with indigenous youth in impoverished communities.  USH officially become a 501(c)(3) in October of 2013.Since USH’s inception, and through a solidified partnership with the Maya Traditions Foundation, we have expanded from 1 – 6 of their communities.  Between our start in December of 2012 and 2013, 18 students have completed individual films and in early 2014 nine youth formed two production teams to create original documentary shorts.

Finally, we identified four of our first year students to become part of our staff. These Youth Leaders take on teaching new students, administering the organization, and contributing their ideas to the ongoing development of USH.  After a recommendation by a youth program leader from Cultural Survival, our Youth Leaders helped us to secure a second partnership with ADECCAP in Santiago, Atitlán.  This May these same leaders began our third year of USH, with new students in our present communities as well as in our new ones.

Click on the image below to see our video\

Next Month Preview:

Youth Leaders: We will introduce each of our youth leaders, tell you where they are from and what they are doing.  You’ll hear the philosophy from their perspective and what they envision for the future of USH. For a quick peak, visit the About Us section of our website.

Upcoming Show:

Save the Date!! On June 20th at 6PM, USH will be presenting two films at Casa Herrera in Antigua, Guatemala.Casa Herrera is a research, conference and teaching facility operated by the University of Texas, Austin.  We will provide more details in our June New letter.


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