BY ALEX BERG
This semester, I attempted to teach so-called journalism to first, second, fifth and sixth graders at the Ella Baker School, a public school on the Upper East Side for children with parents who work in the area. I’ve tried to teach the students the fundamentals of the field—and to some degree I have—but I’m convinced I’ve learned more from them. Over the last three months, the students worked on newspapers about issues relevant to life in Ella Baker, from cafeteria food to sustainability to the latest Apple technology, and it’s been a collaborative effort between their creativity and my technological know-how.
Every Wednesday morning at Ella Baker, I worked with a mixed first and second grade group and two mixed fifth and sixth grade groups. The 45 minutes I spend with each group begins with examining a piece of journalism and discussing what the students think makes it “work.” The best part of the process is when students say something unexpected. One morning we listened to an episode of “This American Life” about summer camps and one of the students noted that, as someone who rarely left the city, the idea of a pastoral camp was foreign to her. This led to a stimulating discussion on the content of documentaries, if they have to be relevant to all audiences and whether or not documentaries constitute news.
Working with all of the students has been a pleasure, but the biggest hurdle was figuring out how to communicate abstract notions like newsworthiness and ethics to first and second graders. Though my prior teaching experience consisted of teaching writing in a maximum security prison, I underestimated the difficulty of teaching these concepts. I’ve learned to be much more literal with the first and second graders, while I direct discussion with the older students. Early on I learned this lesson when a few seven-year-old students pitched stories to me about “John Lennon smoking cigarettes” and “Jurassic farts.”
I imagine most teachers must confront the challenges I’ve had teaching, and for a reporter, the experience has given me an inside look at how big policies impact the youngest students. This is evident in the fifth and sixth graders newspaper, “EB News,” where their concerns are voiced through stories on cafeteria food, feeling shorted on time for art class and art supplies. Click here to read their stories.
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