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Donna's research began taking shape during her doctoral studies between 2000 and 2004.  Her work specifically focused upon how youth in underrepresented contexts adopt and employ digital media technologies to document, question, and analyze their local situations. Working in and around technology, youth make visible their knowledges, their approaches to learning, and their expriences that inform thier ways of seeing the world.  Drawing upon theoretical frames of media studies (Hammer & Kellner, 2009; Hall, 1996), critical pedagogy (Freire, 1970) and Transformative Praxis (Smith, 2004), Donna's research sought to leverage media technologies to afford youth the opportunity to see themselves as part of directing their own learning and for educators to gain insight into how youth connect with their local context.  Through various iterations of the work in Philadelphia, Patterson, NJ, the Dominican Republic, and Dorchester, MA, Donna began to solidify a flexible and adapable pedagogical model that was created alongside the youth with who she works.  This work subsequently materialized into the nonprofit organization called Unlocking Silent Histories.  Here is are highlights, in reverse order, of her projects.



Unlocking Silent Histories (2012 - present)

Lilla G Fredrick Banner


Unlocking Silent Histories (USH) is an educational nonprofit founded in 2013. USH opens spaces for indigenous youth to critically analyze how they are represented in the media and to creatively express their worlds from their perspectives, in the form of documentary films. It also contributes to the promotion of cultural understanding by connecting youth across generational and geographical boundaries.

Our learning designs emerge from the local context, honoring languages, traditions, and cultures as well as in our belief in youth-directed learning, participatory research, and community-centered video ethnography:

  • Local knowledge and voice are foundational to authentic learning
  • Community connected themes encourage critical and creative expression
  • Youth have the capacity to direct their own learning and author their own stories

What is USH

Purpose of USH



Dorchester, MA (2011 - 2012)

Lilla G Fredrick Banner


The Lilla G. Frederick School is a pilot middle school in Dorchester, MA. Donna collaborated with Teachers in the school to develop a pilot after school program that allows youth to explore their interests. Including youth in the decision curriculum planning from the beginning, this group collectively decided to focus on the perceptions and realities of urban youth in the media. Specifically, these youth examined how urban various forms of media projected and reinforced stereotypes about urban youth. They used VoiceThread to organize and analyze different images on the internet, in the movies, and in the news. Next, they used creative narrative film or digital story telling techniques to create their own media to both highlight and counter these perceptions.

Dominican Republic (2010 - 2011)

Lilla G Fredrick Banner


In July 2010, supported by a grant from the Office of International and Transnational Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Donna traveled to the Dominican Republic. The goal of this trip was to explore potential relationships between the University of Massachusetts, Boston and the Mariposa DR Foundation, a nonprofit organization in the Dominican Republic. What materialized instead were relationships with both the Mariposa Foundation and the Ruth and Werner Plaut Kindergarten and Community Center in La Mina, Dominican Republic. It was through these community-based video projects that Donna gained a deeper understanding of a emergent and flexible pedagogy that integrally involved youth voice and community inquiry. The work in the Dominican Republic was truly a turning point that would spark the trajectory for what was eventually to become Unlocking Silent Histories.

Philadelph, PA (2003 - 2004)

Lilla G Fredrick Banner


Donna completed her dissertation work in Philadelphia at a community center called Project HOME. The work in the center was a self-initiated digital divide engagement that shed a light on how technology-mediated activities in a cross-community partnership empowered youth to have a voice in the organization of their learning. In this web design course, high boys from a suburban school taught middles school youth in this community centered. My analysis focused on how these different cultures intersected to bring about new forms of participation and emergent activity structures. The learners became a significantly integral part of co-creating the evolving learning structure. To the right are examples of what the youth decided to include on their websites.

Dorchester Media

Dominican Media

Philadelphia Media