Case Study: Establishing Media Literacy in a Catholic School Setting


For three years, from 1999 to 2001, a media literacy pilot program was successfully instituted at Our Lady of Malibu School and Parish (OLM) in Malibu, CA. Components included: grade-specific lesson plans in Consumerism, Representation and Violence Prevention; a 7th grade video project, newspaper article production and an animation workshop for 5th to 8th-grade students. This case study describes how media literacy supports values-oriented education and outlines key steps toward creating a solid roster of instruction and activities. OLM is presented as a model for all schools for how to integrate media education in ways that are empowering for children, manageable for teachers, and supportive of essential critical-thinking processes. The Center for Media Literacy (CLM) consulted on the project and will use lessons learned in the development of new programs and curriculum. A primary goal is to formally integrate media education into state standards and Diocesan educational curriculum.


"The world we live in is clearly permeated with media. We teach our kids how to read and write. Yet we're not really cognizant of the language of media and its powerful effect. My goal is to help people become better aware so they can make more informed choices."                      – Father Bill Kerze on the importance of media literacy at Our Lady of Malibu Parish and School

Malibu, California. Where better to introduce media literacy than in a community situated near Hollywood, "the entertainment capital of the world,"– and one which, itself, is comprised of many actors, production executives, concerned parents and progressive educators.

The program at Our Lady of Malibu (OLM) School and Parish met the special needs of this media-sophisticated neighborhood and is a model for all schools for how to integrate media education in ways that are empowering for children, manageable for teachers and faculty and supportive of key critical-thinking processes generalizable across curricular areas.

Over a three year period, from 1999 to 2001, media literacy was instituted in the forms of: grade-specific lesson plans in Consumerism, Representation and Violence Prevention; a 7th grade video project, newspaper article production and most recently, a hands-on animation workshop for 5th to 8th-grade students.

How Media Literacy Supports Values-Oriented Education

The Center for Media Literacy's (CML's) "vision" of media literacy is "the ability to communicate competently in all media forms, print and electronic, as well as to access, understand, analyze and evaluate the powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture."

This definition supports values-oriented schooling in describing a foundation for empowering young people to make life decisions based on personal beliefs instead of messages found in television, advertising, movies, music and the internet. It's really about using media literacy to develop and sharpen key analytic skills to make informed evaluations.

"Children need to be taught how to be critical viewers of all media. They are inundated with media messages on an everyday basis and need to be able to make value judgments on what they see and are exposed to," explained Our Lady of Malibu principal, Terry Miller.

Year One: Start-Up Steps

A first step of the OLM media literacy program was "getting the word out" to area educators. So, in early 1998, media literacy sessions were hosted by CML at the National Catholic Education Association conference (NCEA) in Los Angeles. "We were the most jam packed of any workshops and everyone was really impressed with the turnout," recalled Elizabeth Thoman, CML Founder, Chair and Chief Program Officer.

Tessa Jolls, CML President and CEO, volunteered to head the parish media literacy program and Fr. Kerze formed a Steering Committee consisting of Jolls, Terry Miller, Pam Litz, Laureen Sills and Ralph Sariego – all members of the OLM School Advisory Board. This committee took CML's Crash Course in Media Literacy, a 4-hour workshop taught by Thoman which covered the core concepts of media literacy and a basic outline of its pedagogy. The class eventually became mandatory for participating as a program volunteer.

Target audiences for the program were identified as: school faculty, parents and K-8 students; the Religious Education program; Confirmation classes; and adult parishioners. CML prepared a proposal for how to reach these various groups, with an additional aim of serving as a pilot program for the Los Angeles Archdiocese Department of Education.

Before beginning formal lessons, it was deemed necessary to hold an information session for parents working both in and outside of media-related careers. Discussion centered on the CML handout, "What the Media Industry Needs to Know," which outlines how media literacy is not about censorship or bashing – but instead, is an inquiry process that allows people to make their own choices about media messages, and supports individual expression through the use of media tools.

During this time, OLM teachers worked closely with Elizabeth Thoman on designing lesson plans for various aged groups. "I had meetings with teachers from each grade level and they really wanted to do something in advertising first," said Thoman. "It's often where schools want to start since it's an area in which kids are particularly vulnerable."

Part of this curriculum involved the videotape, Buy Me That, which illustrates how television commercials are specially crafted to entice consumers. "In the video, you see children happily and successfully jumping up and down on a bouncing ball product," explained Miller. "But then outtakes are shown with actors consistently falling off and having trouble maneuvering them. It's a real eye opener for students to realize … that the media sometimes twists things around to make them look good."

Fr. Kerze conducted an outstanding workshop on sexual identity and media images with the Confirmation Class. "The goal of our Confirmation process is to exercise leadership. And some of the biggest issues that young people deal with today are related to sexual identity and relationships," said Fr. Kerze. "We try to help them realize that they are, in fact, receiving media messages - then get them to make choices about which ones they want to accept and which they wish to reject."

Year Two: Reports and Changes

Due to teacher "overload," in the program's second year, it was deemed more practical to have parent volunteers create and teach in-classroom media literacy lessons as separate, pullout sessions from the regular schedule. It was also realized that individualizing pre-designed media literacy curriculum was much more time-efficient than creating it from scratch.

In the fall, Fr. Kerze, Ralph Sariego, Elizabeth Thoman and Tessa Jolls gave a report to the Los Angeles Archdiocese Superintendent of Schools outlining progress made within the program - and presented a proposal for additional Diocesan involvement. A key recommendation was that until media literacy is incorporated into curricular guidelines and linked to educational standards, it would be difficult to motivate teachers to consistently teach lessons in a purposeful way.

Year Three: Final Events and Activities

During the program's final year, a significant event took place in the form of media literacy workshops for teachers sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Held as a means of introducing the subject into Catholic elementary schools across the city and led by Elizabeth Thoman, the intensive, daylong courses reached an average of 20 teachers per session.

"We conducted these classes with the purpose of providing teachers with skills needed to help children develop higher order thinking skills," said Rina Gno, Archdiocese Curriculum Director and K-12 System Testing Coordinator. "Children need these abilities since media plays an important role in their lives. And information coming to them is so overwhelming that they must be able to make sense of it in line with the values being taught in school."

Another special day for the Confirmation class was created through bringing in youth leader, Michael Danielson to conduct a discussion about media messages. During this dynamic session, Danielson helped students understand the basic principals of media literacy and how they relate to such everyday experiences as movie and television watching.

In a departure from previous years, 5th to 8th-graders received an advanced media literacy activity in the form of hands-on animation workshops. The event was sponsored by OLM's Cultural Affairs and Media Literacy committees to hone students' creative thinking skills as well as animation production knowledge. "The rationale behind this particular workshop was that doing something in either visual arts, animation, digital arts and/or video would be more relevant for kids," said Jane Smith, Cultural Affairs Department Chair. There was also a financial benefit since both divisions' budgets were used to meet costs.

Under the tutelage of Los Angeles-based animation-education company, AnimAction, Inc., students wrote and produced their own animated stories which were presented to parents and teachers at a festive, evening "Premier Night." The animation workshop was so overwhelmingly successful, that it is the cornerstone for future media literacy activity at the school.

"I think the workshop gave students a newfound appreciation for animation and that it could be used for something besides trivial entertainment," said Dr. Barbara Burgan, OLM teacher and Faculty Coordinator for the AnimAction program. And in an exciting turn of events, the segments were actually aired on Malibu's local public access station.

Generalizable Abilities Acquired Through Media Literacy

"...Creating and performing a rock song or scripting, shooting and editing a video takes adolescents out of their consumeristic passivity and unleashes their energy and imagination. If combined with research, discussion, writing and other traditional modes of instruction, producing popular art media could refine and advance adolescents' evaluative abilities. And as they explore this new ground, young people will find their own voices in their own local setting" (Schwarz, 2000).

In utilizing media-themed, meaning-centered curriculum and reflective thinking processes, students may become more "connected" to standardized school subjects while developing a position of empowerment through pro-active and disciplined questioning, reasoning and knowledge acquisition.

Support for this rationale comes from concepts such as:

    Media Literacy as Meaning-Centered Curriculum. Media literacy is contextualized based on analysis of television, film, websites, video games, commercials and music that children use and watch in the real world. So, instead of disconnected fact learning, this form of education has real, immediate applicability to the decisions students make in their everyday lives.

    Constructivist Pedagogy. The core of constructivist pedagogy is empowering students to construct their own understandings through playing with ideas, exploring issues and encountering new information (Brooks and Brooks, 1993). Many elements of this popular concept of teaching and learning are ingrained in media literacy education, including: presenting real-world possibilities and encouraging students to analyze, synthesize and evaluate problems and solutions; using primary sources and hands-on materials; encouragement of teacher-student and student-student dialogue; and stimulating student inquiry through asking thoughtful, open-ended questions (Brooks and Brooks, 1993).


Key Elements for Starting a Media Literacy Program

    • Committed Leadership.


    • Media Literacy Training and Staff Support.


    • Lesson Plans and Accessible Media Literacy Resources.


    • Researching popular forms of media to enhance in-class use and analysis.

Lessons Learned

    • Children are sophisticated with regard to media issues such as consumerism. There's no need to "water down" presentations to them.


    • Strive for a professional, institutionalized program since even with the most dedicated of volunteers, the program will not be as thorough or as consistent over time without these components. This may involve hiring a special media literacy teacher or the outsourcing of complicated programs to outside companies.


    • Support must come from the top, down. The Pastor and Principal must absolutely be behind the program. They must also be committed to helping "sell" it to school faculty and parents.


    • Parents should be informed. They should be assured that the program has appropriate content and that children are learning valuable skills - not just passively watching videos.


    • Teach the positive aspects of media. Valuable and worthwhile aspects of media should be incorporated since, as young people are taught to think analytically, it can be easy to steer a program in the direction of being overly negative.


    • Incorporate hands-on, multi-media projects which can be good skill-builders.

The Future of Media Literacy

This case study began by looking at how media literacy is tied to values-oriented education. However, these processes extend beyond the teaching of any one educational program or subject and generalize into the ways in which young people evaluate, construct and reflect upon knowledge in all curricular areas.

The steps and stages of Our Lady of Malibu's program have provided a rich knowledge base for both its creators – and students. For OLM and the Center for Media Literacy, lessons learned will apply to designing future media literacy programs. For kindergarten through 8th-grade participants, it has brought about an awareness of media literacy and honed key, analytic abilities. "It's been three years since we've been working with OLM," said Thoman. "And now they've been through various lesson plans and activities and are getting pretty savvy."

A current undertaking which would permanently position media education in OLM's Religious Education program is the creation of curriculum modules and supportive resources for Catechists to follow and teach. These are being developed by a parent, Jim Ricor, in conjunction with Tessa Jolls.

It is hoped that the future of media literacy at the Diocesan level will have just as strong of a future. "There has been recognition on the part of the Archdiocese that progress in media education is dependent on 'interweaving' it into all subject areas, and incorporating these expectations into the curricular guides which all teachers use," said Jolls. "This is a challenging task that requires funding and long-term commitment. With new leadership at the Archdiocese, it is too soon to tell which direction will be taken – but regardless, important lessons about viability and sustainability have definitely been learned."

Center for Media Literacy

The Center for Media Literacy advocates a philosophy of "empowerment through education," incorporating the steps:

    • Media literacy is education for life in a global media world.
    • The heart of media literacy is informed inquiry.
    • Media literacy is an alternative to censoring, boycotting or blaming "the media."

Embracing this philosophy, we are committed to media education as an essential and empowering life-skill for the 21st century.

    • A not-for-profit organization established in 1989.
    • Provides public education, training and educational resources nationally for the media literacy field.
    • Media literacy books and products may be ordered through our distribution center, GPN Educational Media at: 800-228-4630.

To find out more about CML, contact:

Elizabeth Thoman, Founder, Chair and CPO
Tessa Jolls, President and CEO
Center for Media Literacy
3101 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste. 200
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Tel: 310-581-0260
Fax: 310-581-0270

Our Lady of Malibu School and Parish

"Our mission is to educate the whole student: spiritually, intellectually, physically, psychologically, aesthetically and socially. To help them become aware of the world around them and how to deal with issues that confront them on a daily basis is our goal. We also feel that the shared values we teach and show by actions will prepare our students for life." -Terry Miller, OLM School Principal

    • K-8, private, Catholic Elementary School
    • Under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Archdiocese Dept. of Education
    • Serving 200 students in a traditional school year format (Sept. to June)

For more information, please contact:

Fr. Bill Kerze, Pastor, OLM Parish
Ms. Terry Miller, Principal, OLM School
Our Lady of Malibu
3625 Winter Canyon Road
Malibu, CA 90265
School tel: 310-456-8071
School fax: 310-456-7767
Rectory tel: 310-456-2361


"We started AnimAction in 1989 with a single purpose in mind - to give young people the opportunity to experience the spirit of collaboration, develop new skills and exercise their freedom of expression through the medium of animated film. I'm proud to state that these goals have been more than met in hundreds of AnimAction workshops."

– Clifford Cohen, Executive Director
    • Conducts animated public service announcement (PSA) workshops for schools and communities.
    • Has trained thousands of students throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe and student-produced PSA's have been seen on Kids' WB, Fox Kids, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, and in Los Angeles on KLCS.

For more information, please contact Clifford Cohen at:

1529 Cahuenga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028 USA
Tel: 323.464.1181
Fax: 323.464.1191




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