A nonprofit organization in Centreville is making waves at high schools around the area, providing an outlet for creative expression through a student-based Internet radio station. Arts & Education in Concert (AEIC) was first started by Centreville native Jeff Kaye as a musical side project, which then blossomed into an alternate means for keeping kids away from drugs and crime.
"I'VE CONDUCTED dialogues with students and asked them why they begin to use drugs," said Kaye, the president of AEIC. "Do you know the No. 1 answer? Boredom. So we tell the schools: We are giving you a radio station to broadcast whatever you want. Students can broadcast music, poetry, or if [students] want to broadcast a show that compares the fashion of Latin America to the fashion of Western Europe, then they can do that too."
The concept for AEIC was inspired by Kaye's difficult upbringing — one which was rife with drugs and violence on the outskirts of Southeast, D.C. — and in 1995 he decided to begin the program that would help kids from being led astray by negative influences.
"I went to [the National Institute of Health] and asked 'What works?'" said Kaye. "They said the best deterrent is to involve kids — whether it's in music, dance, poetry, athletics — and a high percentage of kids who are involved in activities tend to stay away from drugs and violence. [AEIC] lets kids speak out and be heard."
AEIC is currently the only nonprofit organization that harnesses online radio as a mouthpiece for the youth, offering looped recordings of all of their music on its Web site, which is broadcast from the Centreville headquarters on Northbourne Drive. Online radio empowers high school students in several ways: in addition to allowing students to create and develop ideas for the radio programming, it endows them with a global voice, spanning the far reaches of the planet with their message.
Sean Russell, who grew up and currently resides in the heart of Centreville, is the director of technology for AEIC. "When we began the program we had about a thousand weekly hits (visits to the Web site)," said Russell, who produces much of the Web site's audio programming using computer-based music software. "Now we have the capacity for up to 10,000 people to listen at once and we expect that we will have to expand our bandwidth pretty soon [to accommodate the increasing traffic on the Web site]."
Russell manages AEIC's five streaming audio stations, one of which is updated daily with contributions from local high school artists. Another channel features a two-hour program that he created after spending a week amongst the high school population of South Lakes. "We took microphones into the cafeteria and had beat-box competitions, we sat in the lecture hall and recorded a session with Congressman Tom Davis and listened to SGA meetings," said Russell, whose programming block captures the aural gamut of the extracurricular high school experience.
FOR SOME students, AEIC's Internet radio station teaches them about broadcast media while they hone their artistic trades. Lauri Greene, a musician entering her senior year at South Lakes High School, uses creative expression as a channel for life's stresses and she encourages her listeners to find a positive outlet of their own.
"Music was a way for me to medicate myself emotionally and get back the balance that was sorely needed," said Greene, one of the artists featured on the AEIC Web site (www.aeconcert.org).
Greene's musical performances are prefaced by a personal message to her audience, in which she shares how her craft helps her remain drug free through practicing her artistry and staying productive. She and Kaye have remained close through the years and Greene now interns at AEIC's Centreville office.
In preventing drug use among high school-age students, Kaye understands the importance of open communication. He encourages the featured artists on the AEIC station to convey, in their own words, how creative expression can influence others to avoid drug use and crime.
In the latter years, Kaye's program has become more diverse in its scope, expanding beyond the Internet. Recently AEIC conducted a "Poetry Slam" at the MCI Center in downtown Washington and sponsored Q&A sessions at various high schools with Rep. Tom Davis, with whom Kaye credits for assisting in AEIC's vitality.
Kaye plans to expand AEIC and he has organized a county-wide "Battle of the Bands" to provide a platform for student musicians. For high schools that are interested in becoming involved in AEIC Kaye urges them to contact him, insisting that given the proper resources, those who seek his collaboration shall find it.
In the meantime, Kaye will continue to conduct open forums at local high schools, which he often finds to be therapeutic for students. "Just the process of being in a group was healing for these kids," said Kaye. "The collective experience … [and] talking about their own problems almost completely lifted the burden."