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‘Orange Seeds of Civility’ helps teach media literacy to middle schoolers


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Six members from Syracuse University’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America wanted middle schoolers to learn more about media literacy, so they created a Canva presentation.

On slide 22, the public relations majors presented their acronym for helping to identify reliable news sources: CRAAP, or currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose. On another slide, the team asked students to spot fake news by choosing if an article about Kanye West winning the 2020 election — and being the first non-lizard person to be president — was legitimate or not.

“Well, the last time I checked, lizard people don’t exist,” one student said.

Along with teaching kids media literacy through the team’s Orange Seeds of Civility program, students also participated as survey samples for PRSSA’s Bateman Case Study Competition. The competition challenges public relation students nationwide with creating a campaign for an assigned client each year.

For the 2021 competition, PRSSA tasked students with promoting civility in public discourse. After teams submit their case studies on Monday, professionals will judge each campaign and announce three finalists in April. With kids growing up during a digital age, Orange Seeds of Civility chose to create their civility campaign about media literacy and middle school students.

“Having a middle school demographic for the campaign is going to be a little different than everyone else,” said Orange Seeds of Civility member and SU junior DJ Davis. “By not trying to fix adults, we felt like trying to educate a younger group would be a little more effective in dissolving these current issues.”

SU’s PRSSA chapter first recruited members for its two 2021 campaigns last fall. Samantha Cooper, the chapter’s co-president, helped choose SU’s two teams through an application process. Cooper said she was looking for candidates who had a strong passion and unique perspective on this year’s subject.

The Orange Seeds of Civility team assembled in October. After attending a few Bateman seminars, one of the group’s members, Neeve Prendergast, came up with the idea of ​​focusing the group’s case study on media literacy. While researching current programs, the team hopped on a Zoom call one day in November, pinning down the Syracuse area as the spot to conduct the campaign with the help of their professional adviser, Kristy Smorol.

“This campaign is a really lofty topic because it’s about instability and it’s about really combating misinformation and the role that media literacy plays in that,” Smorol said. “Reaching out to local schools and working with kids means that they’re helping these kids have the foundation of media literacy.”

During winter break, Kate Reynolds, an SU junior and one of the group’s members, emailed over 10 middle schools around central New York. The team eventually got in contact with three different schools.

For Nick Luppino, a social studies teacher at Lincoln Middle School on James Street, Orange Seeds of Civility reached out at the perfect time. The 2020 election and media literacy was something his seventh and eighth graders focused on in class this school year, and the SU students’ program was another way for them to learn about the topic.

The team began creating their presentation in February and finally presented their program to middle schoolers throughout the day on March 5. Luppino recalled over 100 Lincoln students logged into Microsoft Teams from different classes — including biology, music and math — and paid close attention to the presentation, asking questions and adding their own opinions. And despite being slotted for just a time period right before noon, the program ran 15 minutes over time.

In the beginning and end of each section, the team sent out a Google Form survey to students, whose information will be used as data for the case study. Students filled out true and false, multiple choice and open response questions, and one asked them about the importance of media literacy.

“Media literacy is basically helping us understand the world around us and this era of our history,” one student wrote.

“It’s important because you have to learn the online world,” another submitted.

Although the six were doing the program for a competition, those types of answers were exactly what they’re looking for.

Contact Christopher: cscargla@syr.edu | @chrisscargs


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