In this conversation, Reach Cyber Charter School sophomore Ja’Nya Coleman discusses how she views the paths to career success outside of attending college post-graduation, and how virtual learning, mentors and bad TV shows helped her realize her passion for storytelling and find a creative community.


Jourdan: Let’s take a trip. 

Jourdan: It’s 3 p.m. You’re just getting in from a long day of school work and socializing at High School, USA. You drop your bags at the door, take off your shoes, and go straight into the kitchen to grab a snack. You know, a bowl of cereal, a couple of bags of Funyuns, leftover pizza, pierogies, noodles. You know, something light. You run upstairs, stretch out across your bed or sit in your favorite chair and turn on the television and immerse yourself into your favorite show. For me, it was the Tyra Banks Show. For 10th grader Jan’ya Coleman, her enjoyment of television and movies goes far beyond her just watching it. She’s studying it. Inside the Carnegie Library on a very wet Pittsburgh afternoon in Squirrel Hill, I learned how the isolation of the pandemic and pandemic era, learning bad TV shows, a colorful imagination and supportive family and friends all led Ja’Nya to take her artistry and passion for storytelling seriously and empowered her to take her future into her own hands and blaze her own trail. I’m Jourdan Hicks and this is From the Source. Meet Jan’ya Coleman. 

Ja’Nya: My name is Ja’Nya Coleman. I am in 10th grade. I go to Reach Cyber Charter School, and I live in Penn Hills. I live with my mom, my dad, my two brothers and my sister, and my dog. 

Jourdan: What’s your dog’s name? 

Ja’Nya: Karma. She is a Rottweiler. Very babyish. 

Jourdan: A big Rottweiler, or like a baby Rottweiler? 

Ja’Nya: She’s big, but she thinks she’s really small. 

Jourdan: I think it’s so funny when dogs do that and it’s like, look at yourself. You’re not small. 

Ja’Nya: She jumps on me and she’s like, on my shoulders. Like, very, like, you’re heavy. 

Jourdan: In her spare time. Ja’Nya likes to bake. Mostly cookies and cakes. 

Ja’Nya: Because I use, like, a piping bag. 

Jourdan: What’s your favorite flavor of cake? 

Ja’Nya: Has to be even, no, chocolate? No chocolate. No, wait. I’m tripping myself up. You know what? Vanilla or chocolate. 

Jourdan: Okay. Ja’Nya’s a daydreamer, a big thinker, a fantasizer or escapist, idealist. Were you a big make believe person? 

Ja’Nya: Yes. 

Jourdan: Did you have an imaginary friend? 

Ja’Nya: Yes. 

Jourdan: Tell me all about it. 

Ja’Nya: His name was Philip. I don’t know why. And I would make it like our pretend brother, before I had a brother. And I used to say to my sister, like, Hey, maybe we should ask her brother Philip. It was so weird. Very weird. 

Jourdan: Ja’Nya considers herself a storyteller, which is why she’s especially excited about the new creative outlet she’s found. 

Ja’Nya: Yes. I do the WQED Film Academy. So we’re learning, like, about pre-production, and production, post-production, editing, filming, scriptwriting. So pretty much all of it. 

Jourdan: The Film Academy is an 11-week course that supports diverse storymakers and filmmakers in Southwestern Pennsylvania by teaching them the basics of digital media arts: storytelling, camera, audio, lighting, and editing. The curriculum is more than 100 hours of hands-on and collaborative learning and uses the latest digital media technology to help filmmakers and storytellers achieve their creative ideas. 

Jourdan: Were you walking into this opportunity thinking like, oh, I know this is going to be beneficial to me? Or were you like, I don’t know. We’ll kind of see. 

Ja’Nya: No clue. 

Jourdan: No clue. Just like jump in feet first and we’ll see what happens. 

Ja’Nya: Yeah. 

Jourdan: That’s really brave of you. 

Ja’Nya: I was shocked myself. 

Jourdan: So what are your plans post-graduation? 

Ja’Nya: So once I graduate, I want to go to college for film and media. I want to do, like, directing, like scriptwriting plus, too, like the production. 

Jourdan: What shows are you watching now? 

Ja’Nya: So I started watching Adventure Time again, just have something. I just finished The Watcher. What else? I’ve watched the show called on Netflix called Heartbreak High, and I just spent, in between, I’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race. 

Jourdan: Same. 

Ja’Nya: All Stars, I’ve been watching.

Jourdan: Yes.  Ja’Nya also shares a guilty pleasure with her mom. 

Ja’Nya: She like watches soap operas. 

Jourdan: Like Days of Our Lives? 

Ja’Nya: The Young and the Restless. 

Jourdan: Yes. 

Ja’Nya: It’s like, I’m admitting this, but like, I watch it with her. It’s like the other day I got upset and I told her to stop watching it because I got mad at the character. 

Jourdan: Not only has the Film Academy helped Ja’Nya figure out a career path, it’s also helped her connect with her peers in a way that’s been difficult for her in recent years. When did you leave public school? 

Ja’Nya: It was the start of COVID. 

Jourdan: Mhm. Okay. So you left specifically because of COVID? 

Ja’Nya: Yeah. 

Jourdan: Okay. And so do you prefer homeschool over going to school physically? 

Ja’Nya: I do. There’s like some things that I miss out on that I wish I could have. Like having a homecoming would be, like, pretty cool, or like having more friends to talk to cause all the people are virtual. You can’t give out your social media to talk and stuff. 

Jourdan: You can’t?  That’s a rule? 

Ja’Nya: It’s like a liability. 

Jourdan: Ja’Nya found out about the Film Academy through her school and first joined at what they call the learning level in 2021. Because of COVID, the sessions were held virtually. After that, she went back as an intern in person where they jumped right into filming the first day. 

Jourdan: She’s now a leader among the Film Academy students, as a paid member of the WQED Teen Film Crew. She and her colleagues pitch and produce their own work and take on client work. They’ve gotten super close over the years. 

Jourdan: Yeah. Have you found your tribe? Do you feel like? 

Ja’Nya: Yeah. 

Jourdan: Who’s your tribe? Who’s your friends? Let’s shout them out. 

Ja’Nya: I have friends, I met them through the film program. So there’s Sydney, Dornan and a friend of mine, Luke. We’re all, like, really good friends. We all, like, walk out together. So. Yeah. 

Jourdan: Yeah. Like you’re little homies. I was gonna say Three Musketeers, but it’s more than three of y’all. Your Musketeer crew. 

Ja’Nya: Yeah, We’re really good friends. 

Jourdan: And what do you think it is that makes you friends? Is it the interest in storytelling, in production, because you’re in the project, or is it like other things that kind of support that and motivate that? 

Ja’Nya: I think sometimes we can be a little sarcastic. We kind of think of the same things and like we work together a lot. Which kind of made us all bond and we like have a weird sense of humor together, that only kind of we get. 

Jourdan: Ja’Nya’s friend group, her mentors and the skills she’s learning at the Film Academy all have given her more confidence to be herself. 

Ja’Nya: I was like really shy, but now it’s like kind of takes me a little while to open up, but I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress. 

Jourdan: What do you think’s helped you to make that progress? 

Ja’Nya: Having like, supportive people help me open up. Like having a teaching artist to help me, like, speak up a little bit. Because it used to be like, Ja’Nya, your goal today is to speak up. Then I’ll be like I used to, like, talk like, [whispers] I don’t know. And I’m like, now I’m, like, able to talk louder. 

Jourdan: It feels good to be seen and recognized by the people that you like, you enjoy spending time with. One of the things Ja’Nya and her friends discuss is whether they plan to go to college after they graduate high school. 

Ja’Nya: I have a friend that says that they don’t want to go to college and stuff, but they still want to have like a job maybe around film. And you can still have opportunities. And I have some of my other friends who are like, they want to go to college for like the same thing I want to do. So it’s kind of like mixed. 

Jourdan: Are there any specific reasons that they’re giving you to why they do or don’t want to go? 

Ja’Nya: One of the reasons is just like going through school again, like school, like, subjects, doing work is like such a, maybe, like exhausting thing. And that’s hard. 

Jourdan: Yeah. Especially when you know what you want to do. And it’s like, why do I have to take this elective on science if I know I want to do something that’s not science-related? 

Ja’Nya: Yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure that you should go to college, you should do this, you should. That you should maybe, like, let someone make their own choice and like their own path because you don’t have to go to college to make lots of money because a lot of like college students, they drop out their first semester and stuff and they make a career out of things. That kind of shows you that college, you can go to college, but you still have those opportunities. 

Jourdan: Ja’Nya says her decision to go to college is her own, and that her parents have never pressured her. 

Ja’Nya: So their thing is, like you can go to college if you want and stuff, but you don’t have to. They’ll help you’re way through. And my sister, something she once did, she did, since my sister’s older. So she went. She’s like going to college to be a veterinarian. So that’s something she wanted to do. So you’re like, weigh your options, like, kind of what do you feel? 

Jourdan: Ja’Nya is looking at Point Park University and Robert Morris University, and she continues to work on her skills and portfolio through the Film Academy. She’s even written her own short film. 

Ja’Nya: So I am working on this project. So it’s called Heartbreaker. It’s like this reality TV show about like a couple that broke up and they go on this show and they talk about all the crazy scenarios that happen. 

Jourdan: Ja’Nya hopes that by sharing her story, her peers will be inspired to step out of their comfort zone and decide to try new things, learn new skills, new hobbies and embrace the things that make them them. Be curious, be courageous, and unafraid of your own potential. Ja’Nya’s golden rule? Follow the opportunities. For her, it’s pursuing a career in film in a traditional way, studying, creating and attending college. For you, it may be starting your own business, monetizing your presence on social media, going to trade school or working a job until you figure it out. Your path doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Trust that you can create the life that you want and find the opportunities that will help you to build it. 

Thanks for listening. Season four of From the Source podcast is produced, reported and hosted by me, Jourdan Hicks. Halle Stockton is our editor-in-chief. Story editing, sound design and mixing by Liz Reid of Jeweltone Production. We continue to interview young people for the podcast as we speak. If you’re curious to learn about how you can share your story with us or nominate a young person ages 13 to 18 to appear on an episode of From the Source, you can get in touch with me by sending me an email to PublicSource is an independent nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can find all of our storytelling and reporting at I’m Jourdan Hicks. Stay safe. Be well.

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Jourdan is a senior community correspondent at PublicSource. Previously, Jourdan was engaged as a community-based educator in the Hazelwood section of the city. A lifelong Pittsburgh resident, she’s...