Jessica Pachuta is project codirector at Hear Me, a youth empowerment and media initiative at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab. As Director of Hear Me 101, Jessica trains teens in Pittsburgh high schools to create documentaries and bring their messages to decision makers. She spoke with us about what she’s learning from spending so much time hanging out with politically engaged young people through Hear Me.

Remake Learning: What’s new with Hear Me?

Jessica Pachuta: Hear Me just wrapped up its fall/winter audio campaign on school funding. We partnered with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding coalition because they wanted to hear from students in schools across Pennsylvania about the way school funding impacts their educational experiences. The stories are all online. For our current campaign, we are partnering with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to ask students to explore the role that hands-on learning outdoors could or should play in their education. Interviews from this campaign will be shared with educators around the region, including the Pittsburgh Public Schools and local charter schools to inform decisions on environmental education initiatives. We also just started working on the Hear Me 101 video documentary project this year with our partners and students at schools in the Mon Valley.

What do you consider Hear Me’s biggest accomplishment so far?

Long term, that’s easy: the Hear Me 101 interns! Each year, we select a student from each of the Hear Me 101 partner schools to work with us for six weeks over the summer. They create action plans for their documentaries and receive training in youth voice strategies, messaging, and connecting their media to audiences. It’s the best part of our summer—hanging out with engaged young people who believe in their voices, then seeing them go back in the fall and take those attitudes and sense of empowerment back to their schools.

How many teens have finished the program so far? What else are they up to?

So far, there have been eight young people who’ve finished the program and they’re going to do big things in Pittsburgh. Just wait. 

The toughest part—and sometimes the most valuable part—is bearing witness to the reality of how many young people just aren’t served by the institutions put in place for them.

Recently, we got together with some really smart people in Pittsburgh to plan a Media Empowerment Student Summit (#MESSpgh). So, in November, some adult allies in Pittsburgh planned a day for high school students to come together to learn and share skills in media making and activism. There were workshops on stop-motion animation, audio production, a history of student activism, and -isms and their effects on us, and there was a panel of youth activists and live performances to end the event. It was a really high-energy day. The most rewarding part for me was seeing students from different parts of Greater Pittsburgh, who probably wouldn’t have the chance to meet otherwise, discussing youth organizing work they’re doing and getting excited about meeting peers who are also passionate about youth-led media initiatives in Pittsburgh.

What’s the toughest part about the work you do?

The toughest part—and sometimes the most valuable part—is bearing witness to the reality of how many young people just aren’t served by the institutions put in place for them. Also, when they can’t make sense out of—or feel powerless in—these institutions. It’s very enlightening and humbling to realize that sometimes us adults can’t make sense of these institutions either. Those are the stories that I think are really important to deliver to decision makers—the ones that say, “Please listen to us! Help us!”

How have you connected with other members of the Kids+Creativity Network, and how have the relationships influenced your work?

Our relationship with the K&C network is interesting because everyone is a potential collaborator. The network includes people who are really inspiring, push each other, and share practices, and now it includes youth in the network.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a Sunday in Pittsburgh? 

If it’s not football season, I’m either volunteering with Women in Film and Media Pittsburgh, doing homework for my MBA program, or on a nice loooooong bike ride on the Great Allegheny Passage.