The impact of Project Look Sharp on education and service

During the winter break of my freshman year I reached out to the Project Look Sharp team, and I asked if there was any media or research work that I could do for them. All I knew was that I was interested in media production, and I was interested in education—but their internship application was only open to sophomores and upperclassmen. I took a shot in the dark, and emailed them.

Eight months later, I meet regularly with Chris Sperry, a founding member—I’ve been included in discussions about the future of Project Look Sharp’s services—and I’m working with the team on creating their new home page video. I’ve been extremely grateful for their welcoming attitude, and I’m extremely lucky that an organization that fits my skillset and my long-term service goals as a Park Scholar, is rooted at Ithaca College.

The term “media literacy” is thrown around a lot today—in the news, in research, and in today’s Park School classrooms. And there’s a reason for this: It applies to everyone in the world, at all levels of education. For Park students— the next generation of media creators and leaders—it’s essential that we fully understand the power that media messages have, and how to harness that power for good, and for truth. This lies in media literacy—but at the same time, it’s essential that young children, as early as kindergarten, begin to understand that the TV shows, and commercials, and social media content they see were put there by real people to influence their opinions.

Media literacy is a broad, and very applicable topic in education. Teachers know that it’s important, but it can seem hard to tackle. What Project Look Sharp has done is taken the core principles and goals of media literacy, and incorporated it seamlessly into the traditional educational process. They don’t advocate for weekly lessons on media literacy—they advocate for teaching about the American revolution, or climate change, or nutrition—by having the students from kindergarten through college analyze text and the media examples, and explain what they—themselves—are taking away from these materials. This does a few things: Through helping a student reflect on their own thinking, it allows the student to construct their own learning of a subject, and thus retain it better; It enforces at a young age the idea that media constructs what we know as true; and it equips the students to be able to deconstruct media messages they see in their everyday lives.

This kind of approach to education is more important now than ever. At the risk of echoing every educator and news program over the past few months, this country is at an unprecedented standoff over what is true. Project Look Sharp advocates for an approach to education that helps young students understand that the media has a huge impact on what we think what is true—that all media messages are created by people, with specific goals and specific strategies to attain those goals—and that they, the students, are responsible for the media messages they create.

Project Look Sharp understands that young people no longer experience the world through just conversations and books, but through the internet and new media—and thus, this is the transition our education system needs to make. In the Park Scholar Program, my broad goals are to impact the communities I am involved in through education, and through journalism. While working with students at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center during Media Club last year I used the project’s strategies for education, and I am working with Chris Sperry to increase collaboration between Media Club and Project Look Sharp.

Project Look Sharp has given me new perspectives on all of my goals in the Park Scholar Program -- and it has had a profound impact on the education world, and on young people’s lives.