Local eighth graders explore Athens’ Black history with podcasting pros in tandem with Tantrum Theater’s opening of ‘Hotel Berry’

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – Eighth graders at Athens Middle School have created a series of podcasts about Black history  to be released in conjunction with Tantrum Theater’s debut of the “Hotel Berry” play.

The project is a collaboration between Tantrum, regional history podcast “Invisible Ground,” the Athens Photo Project, the Athens Middle School Andrew Jackson Davison Club, and multimedia production professionals Brian Koscho, Evan Shaw, Yaphet Jackman, and Nicki Mazzocca.

An Ohio Humanities grant was awarded to Tantrum Theater to fund the project.

The students are members of the Athens Middle School Andrew Jackson Davison Club (AJD Club), formed by Athens Middle School teacher Angela Hall in 2019 to honor Andrew Jackson Davison, Athens’ first practicing Black attorney. The group’s first accomplishment was adding a portrait of Davison alongside the 1876 composite photo of the Athens Bar Association hanging in the Athens County Courthouse from which Davison had been omitted.

The students of the AJD Club conducted research and interviews for the podcasts and left the more labor-intensive production work to the professionals brought in to guide the project.

“Basically, myself and the other professionals are doing the parts that aren’t fun – that’s how I explain it to the students,” said Koscho, creator, host, and producer of “Invisible Ground.” “The focus for the students is to identify their story and figure out how they want to tell it.”

The stories of Athens’ Black history featured in the podcast include the legacies of Edward and Martha “Mattie” Berry (owners and operators of the Berry Hotel) and Andrew Jackson Davison and his wife Eliza; the Mount Zion Baptist Church (which served the Black community in the Mid-Ohio Valley for decades); and Athens’ West Side and the West Side Cemetery.

“Basically, myself and the other professionals are doing the parts that aren’t fun – that’s how I explain it to the students. The focus for the students is to identify their story and figure out how they want to tell it.” – Brian Koscho

Hall said her students have clearly benefited from the project.

“I see a lot of motivation and good group work; soft skills that you don’t necessarily expect eighth graders to have,” she said. “I even see some real professionalism budding. Get this: the students have even been scheduling their own working lunches to work on their projects – so they are taking it very seriously. They’re learning so much.”

Throughout the course of the project students interviewed a range of local experts including Ada Woodson-Adams and Dr. Trevellya Ford-Ahmed of the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, and Jessica Cyders and Tom O’Grady of the Southeast Ohio History Center.

“These are people who have been preserving these histories and these stories for so long,” Koscho said. “Having a chance to engage with those people is huge. I know it’s been huge for me throughout the time I’ve worked with them – and I can only imagine the kind of impact being trusted to tell these stories would have on me if I was in eighth grade.”

Koscho said working with the students has been “humbling and interesting and challenging.”

“And I mean all that really sincerely,” he said. “It’s the same way when I’ve taught the podcasting class here at OU. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with eighth graders or undergraduates or graduate students – there’s this really interesting way that everybody comes at storytelling and even at the technical stuff in their own way.  It’s about how they develop their own voice. I will say that eighth graders are a lot more fun than adults.”

Full versions of the podcasts will be available on Tantrum Theater’s website. All four podcasts will be available in their entirety in an upcoming episode of “Invisible Ground,” find links to the first two episodes, on the Berrys, and the Davisons.