Here comes the Media Mobile

An old school bus outfitted with iMacs, wireless Net access, even a video studio, hits the road to teach kids about the media.


Janelle Brown
August 18, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The shiny BMWs and new Volkswagen Beetles that typically park around the grassy high-tech hangout of San Francisco's South Park had a different kind of companion on Tuesday: a 1974 school bus, painted in the colors of the rainbow and filled with brand-new iMacs. The bus -- dubbed the "Media Mobile" -- was on a press tour to tout the portable division of the Just Think media literacy project.

The 4-year-old Just Think foundation, a nonprofit based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is concerned about the impact -- from Nike to Littleton -- the media has on kids. But as co-founder Elana Rosen explains, "We don't think censorship is the answer." Instead, the group creates after-school programs and in-class workshops on topics like "Media Images, the Body and the Self" or "Dissin' the Hype About Smoking, Drinking and Violence," and teaches kids how to use technology tools to build media of their own.

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"We're matching critical thinking skills with media tools, so that kids can make thoughtful, informed decisions in this world where we're inundated with media every day, " says Rosen. "The media is like a fire hydrant -- we want to help them put a hose on it and direct it."

With a roster of big-name sponsors -- including America Online, Macromedia, Microsoft, Richochet and Disney, who have donated both money and equipment -- Just Think has already taught kids in more than 20 local schools how to build Web sites. It has also sponsored a Zimbabwe-San Francisco technology-education exchange program for students and written curriculum textbooks for media literacy. A typical example of the foundation's work was on display in the Media Mobile on Tuesday: a claymation video, made by students interested in racial issues and screened on ABC, which featured singing tennis shoes rapping that "underneath, our souls are all the same."

The Media Mobile was conceived after the group's founders discovered that students in low-income neighborhoods often had no way of getting to the Just Think centers for the after-school programs. The Media Mobile -- decorated with paintings, poetry, and digital art created by students -- will serve as a portable classroom, taking the technology directly to the kids.

Where the seats in your typical school bus would be, the Media Mobile instead boasts desks that hold several iMacs with wireless Internet access, as well as art supplies and television sets. Soon there will be traveling video, audio and animation studios on the bus. When the Media Mobile pulls up to a school, kids will be able to climb on board and build Web sites, radio spots, videos or digital art. The bus will also be used to take the students on field trips to places like the Technology Museum in San Jose or the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Just Think had a number of current and former student volunteers on hand on Tuesday to testify to the wonders of the program, One of them -- Dominic Bannister, who had participated in the Zimbabwe exchange -- explained his enthusiasm about being involved with the Media Mobile: "Where I was growing up in East Palo Alto, there was no technology. I like to be able to give people an opportunity to learn, to help them. It's like noblesse oblige. I'm into that."


Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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