For one week, recently, students from Clayton and Henry counties got to participate in the sixth annual "Leadership Unplugged: CNN Experience," which allows selected high school juniors and seniors to engage in a series of activities and training sessions focused on media literacy.
"Five hundred, eighty-four high school students from around Georgia applied for the week-long experience, but only 75 were chosen," said Eugene Sanders, who works in the public relations department at CNN. He added that students had to write an essay, as well as provide letters of recommendation from teachers, and then make it through the interview process.
Among the 75 selected from the competitive pool of applicants, were: Clayton County resident, Markell Green, 17, of Lovejoy High School; and Henry County residents, Brooke Vaughan, 17, of Ola High School, Erin Miller, 16, of Eagles Landing High School, and Naya Martin, 15, of Luella High School.
The curriculum for the popular program was developed a team of CNN Student News journalists, and educators. It introduces students to the skills they need to be savvy news consumers and contributors, according to Donna Krache, executive producer of CNN Student News.
During the week, the students worked with CNN's news staff, and interacted in various workshops and presentations, focusing on diversity, ethics in media, and audience engagement.
"The media literacy skills they learn, combined with their exposure to CNN executives and media professionals, gives students a unique opportunity to experience journalism, and the business of media at the headquarters of the worlds news leaders," Krache said.
In addition to working with executives and other CNN professionals, students were able to work in teams to develop a story idea, based on the lessons they learned. During the last day, CNN officials said, they were able to present their project before a panel of judges made up of CNN and Turner Broadcasting System executives.
Brooke Vaughan, of Henry's Ola High School, said her experience at CNN was "life-changing." Markell Green, of Clayton's Lovejoy High School, and Erin Miller, of Eagles Landing, and Naya Martin, of Luella High School, both in Henry County, agreed with Vaughan's assessment.
Each student also agreed that being involved in this experience gave them a different perspective on journalism, as well as learning and developing leadership skills –– and said it is something they will take back to their high schools.
"One of the most important things we learned was criticism, and not everyone is going to like you, but you have to do what's best for the group," said Vaughan.
Green said one of the most notable things for him was working with others and showing compassion. "I learned how to work in a team, how to communicate –– and networking," he said.
"I learned how to treat every experience as a learning experience," added Miller, "and how to learn from other people, and not always take charge."
"Sometimes, as a leader, you have to step back and take the supporting role," Martin agreed.
While this experience may have been about learning the end and outs of the media, Sanders said, it also gave students a feel for what it's like to be in college, as they were able to stay in dorms on Georgia Tech's campus, and participate in other recreational activities offered on campus.
Because of the experience, Miller said, she is now leaning toward a career in journalism. "I'm very interested in broadcast," she said. "I was not that excited at first, but being at CNN, I see there are various things I could do."
Green and Martin said, they too, could see themselves pursing a career in journalism. Green said he is leaning more toward media production, while Martin said she's more a fan of the sports department.
Vaughan, however, said she has no interest in journalism, but wants to pursue her dreams in the medical field. "I feel that with what I learned here, I will still be able to incorporate journalism in everything I do," she said.
The sixth annual Leadership Unplugged: CNN Experience took place June 19-24 , at CNN, in Atlanta, and on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
CNN Student News, is a cost-and commercial-free educational program for middle and high school students, where news is created specifically for the classroom. For more information about Leadership Unplugged: CNN Experience, visit the web site at, www.21stcenturyleaders.org.