Giving Thought: Hearing students’ voices and views over the airwaves

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Carbondale community radio station KDNK is one of the few places on the dial where you’ll regularly hear student DJs.

They are given this opportunity to be heard through the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program (AZYEP), a nonprofit organization that puts local youth on the airwaves. Executive Director Beth Wysong was a classroom teacher for eight years before switching to AZYEP because of the way it challenges kids and connects them to the community.

Aspen Community Foundation: Please tell us about Andy Zanca, and how the organization came to be.

Beth Wysong: Annemarie Zanca, a child and family therapist, created the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program in 2000 in honor of her brother Andy, KDNK’s first youth DJ. Andy committed suicide in 1998, and Zanca recognized that Andy’s radio experience was a highlight of his life, providing a community connection and a tool to combat isolation. She founded AZYEP to provide similar opportunities to youth throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

Over those 18 years, AZYEP has served more than 3,000 youth and now broadcasts six hours of live talk and music programs every week during primetime on KDNK. In addition, AZYEP partners with schools from Aspen to Parachute to showcase student work. We also engage youth in news production and provide mentoring opportunities. Our program has grown over the years because of community support and our sponsors.

ACF: Can you provide an example of one or two students who have benefited from the program?

BW: I truly believe youth radio benefits every student who participates. The students we work with develop and improve their communication skills over time and discover their unique voices. One student in particular was known to be very shy in school. After discovering youth radio, she now DJs a weekly music show, speaks freely on air, recently spoke up at a community meeting in front of 50 people, and will join the AZYEP board of directors this spring. She has found her voice and confidently speaks in the community.

Our classroom collaborations also make an impact. A participating Aspen High School teacher said many students feel a duty to do a better job learning their topic when they know it’s being broadcast to the community. They are proud of their results and that they are able to share what they’ve learned with listeners.

Other teachers report similar results, with shy kids finding their voice, developing confidence and taking real pride in their work. Their peers hear them on the air and praise them, as well.

ACF: How many people work or volunteer for AZYEP, and how many kids do you work with?

BW: Presently I am the only employee of AZYEP and we rely on the help of community supporters and volunteers. We have four teachers who work with our DJs during our weekly live radio shows and with our news team class.

Our strong partnership with KDNK allows us to work with roughly 100 students a year during our live radio programs, which are broadcast in both English and Spanish. Fifty of these students are regular DJs on youth radio and the other half visit KDNK to participate on-air with partner organizations or schools.

We reach hundreds of students through our classroom collaborations. AZYEP partners with 25 teachers in 15 Roaring Fork valley schools to broadcast student work on KDNK. These projects are based on Colorado reading, writing and oral speaking standards and provide an authentic audience for students while connecting schools to the larger community.

In 2017, AZYEP engaged 775 students and their families through these partnerships. With the help of the Aspen Community Foundation, our sponsors and KDNK, we will increase this number in 2018 and broadcast more than 1,000 students. Since Jan. 1, we have already recorded 492 students in five different schools.

ACF: What’s in store for the organization going forward?

BW: We hope to increase our classroom projects and reach more students in different communities. This school year we started an AZYEP news team in partnership with KDNK’s news team. Together we are building a standards-based curriculum to engage students in local and national issues while they develop their communication skills through both teamwork and interviews. We also hope to build partnerships with high school journalism teachers to expand our youth news programming.

We work with two schools in Aspen and broadcast projects from Grand Valley High School in Parachute, which means we’re expanding our reach from the upper Roaring Fork Valley to western Garfield County, and all the communities in between. If we succeed in gaining more resources, then these projects will keep growing in number. This year alone we will add four new schools and collaborate with almost 30 teachers.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.