Partner Spotlight: Meridian Stories

When did Meridian Stories launch and why?

Meridian Stories began when I had a chance to reflect on my experiences working internationally for Sesame Workshop for around 20 years. My training was all about taking a curriculum and developing effective, media-based storytelling around it. Game shows, dramas, short animations…you name it. When I moved my family to Maine from New York City, I was trying to figure out how I could translate that expertise into something meaningful for students locally. And the answer was to start this nonprofit, whose mission is “to prepare students (5th – 12th grade) for the 21st century workplace by providing opportunities to collaborate, create, problem solve and lead in the development and production of meaningful digital narratives that address curricular goals.”

What does Meridian Stories do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

Founded in 2011, Meridian Stories is a blended learning tool that delivers student engagement, curricular proficiency and 21st century skills by offering creative digital storytelling units in LAHistory and STEAM.  From the creation of a new dystopia, to an investigative report about water corruption; from a rap about immigration, to a police drama that is resolved through trigonometry, the Meridian Stories’ experience is designed to deliver on current educational standards while also demanding an application of these critical skill sets: collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and media literacy.

Meridian Stories consists of three component parts: A Marketplace of over one hundred, 3 – 4 week digital creation projects (i.e., short videos and audio stories); an annual Competition that features fifteen Challenges each year (five each in LA, STEAM and History), where student teams earn Digital Badges and feedback from Mentors who are Media and Educational Professionals; and a Resources Collection that assists students and teachers in things like Creative Brainstorming, Documentary Filmmaking, Storyboarding and the Doctrine of Fair Use.

What makes Meridian Stories stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about Meridian Stories?

Our Educational Belief System. Every project that we develop reflects the five points below and I don’t know of any other initiative that combines these educational values in a singular, student-led experience. Meridian Stories believes that:

  1. …Student Engagement is a necessary condition before any learning can take place. What are the conditions for student engagement? Fun, ownership, teamwork and working in the digital realm.
  2. …Media Literacy is as important as textual literacy.
  3. …Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking are skills that hold equal value with the curricular content that teachers have to teach, and students have to learn.
  4. …Project-Based Learning yields the deepest learning experience for students.
  5. …Storytelling is one of the most important pathways for understanding curricular content. Why? Because stories make meaning of our experience.

What are recent projects or new resources that Meridian Stories would like to share with other NAMLE members?

We have always been about the annual Competitions ($250 per school to participate in any or all fifteen competitions) – and so schools and student teams ramp up in the winter and spring to work through their select Challenge (every Meridian Challenge is a full 14-page unit that covers details from Process to Evaluation Rubric, Student Proficiencies to Curricular Standards Correlations). This year, for example, our Competitive Challenges include an exploration into Community Signage; a photo essay on Power and Leadership; and an Eco-Disruption Radio drama. This experience has been at the core of Meridian Stories.

But with eight years under our belt, we decided to make this more of a year-round experience and so we just launched the Marketplace where teachers can choose from over 100 Challenges (those 14-page units) for just $10 per classroom.

And we are beginning to expand internationally: our first non-US school has just come aboard and it’s from New Zealand!

What are the connections between your work and media literacy?

Meridian Stories does not take on the entire spectrum of media literacy. It focuses quite specifically on Media Creation. I prefer the phrase ‘Digital Creation’ but I do believe that the phrases are interchangeable because they are both about learning to communicate using text, sound, music, and imagery.  But here’s the thing I learned from some of the participating teachers as part of a recent Maine DOE study on Meridian Stories: media creation is a naturally iterative process. Students keep shooting and editing, and shooting and editing, until they get it just right. That’s not the learning process with print, where you write the paper, get the comments, and move on. And this iterative process leads to deeper learning; more ownership of the work; and a chance to screen it in front of your peers. When was the last time a student proudly read a paper to their peers? That happens inside of media creation projects and that is super cool.  

Why is media literacy important to you?

First, I believe media literacy is as important as textual literacy. If students are taking in the majority of their information digitally (mostly YouTube), then they need to learn to communicate substantive content digitally as well. We’re talking media creation.

Second, I believe this kind of ‘media literacy’ opens up new pathways into understanding and communicating; especially for those that struggle with text-based literacy. And don’t get me wrong: I love text and print. I’m a former English teacher! So it’s not one or the other. It’s both. But I think both need to be on an equal footing inside the classroom. This isn’t ideological. This is a reflection of how students take in information today…and communicate it out. I believe we are doing them a great disservice if we don’t integrate media creation opportunities into the classroom.  And Meridian Stories exists to facilitate that for teachers.

Anything else you want our readers to know about Meridian Stories, your mission, your staff?

Simply this: the reality is that these Challenges take time and time is often what is most lacking in the lives of teachers and students. But if you, as a teacher, value creativity, collaboration, leadership, storytelling, critical thinking, presentational and media creation skills, as much as you value the content – and I do – then you do need to make the time. It’s a hard one. But for your students, it’s the right thing to do.

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.