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Curious Minds - When Students Engage in Journalism

When Students Engage in Journalism


Student engagement takes many forms. For middle school students enrolled in Journalism: The Fourth Estate, a Summer Transitional Enrichment Program (STEP) class offered by WCATY last summer, it meant:

    • •Getting up the nerve to ask a question of the local police chief at a televised press conference amidst a group of “real” Madison-area journalists.
    • •Turning a notebook full of arcane facts on the science behind greenhouse gases and dismayingly depressing quotes on global warming into a front-page newspaper story that won’t freak out readers. 
    • •Tracking down the home phone number of a source who lives out of state. And calling reluctant sources again and again and again to get them to talk to you.
    • •Deciding if it is unethical to sample the candy you’ve been given by a source at the end of an interview on UW–Madison’s “Candy School.” 
    • •Collaborating on a story with a classmate who disagrees with you about how much background information readers need. On deadline.
    • •Using Twitter not to interact with friends, but to share news with readers.
    • •Resisting the urge to roll your eyes when your editor—also your instructor—tells you to rewrite your story because you’ve buried the “lede.”
    • •Finding and fixing the misspelled name of a source minutes before the paper goes “to press.” 

In a Curious Minds blog post earlier this week, Marissa Greuel, site coordinator of WCATY’s summer enrichment camps, declared last summer “the summer of student engagement,” noting in particular how WCATY students connected with each other, their instructors and other staff members, and WCATY alums outside of the classroom.

I’m here to report the journalism students were every bit as engaged during the time they spent in class, which I taught with my colleague Sami Ghani. And I’m confident the same is true of those enrolled in WCATY’s other STEP classes, all of which were designed to get students to think deeply about complex subject matter; find ways to identify, define, and solve problems; connect with their instructors and peers through shared experiences and insightful conversations; and begin to discover what it is like—and what it will take—to develop expertise in a given field.

For the journalism students, that meant not only learning about the roles and responsibilities of ethical journalists, but also developing the array of skills (interviewing, notetaking, photography, writing, editing, fact-checking, etc.) required to take on that role. What does student engagement looks like out? Check out the STEP Summer Sentinel. 

Priscilla Pardini is WCATY’s communications coordinator and editor of Curious Minds.