A curriculum for journalism, and life
19 teens learn how to do news
High school journalists spent three weeks this July on the University of Miami campus reporting and writing on the impact the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti had on the Haitian-American community in South Florida.
They met Haitians who had to leave Haiti because their high school was destroyed and are now studying and playing football in Miami.
They heard from a Miami Herald reporter who lost 11 family members in the quake.
They wrote about the changing dynamics between Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic.
They also wrote about immigration, environmentalism, relief work, politics and the work churches have been doing toward recovery. In the process, the students learned about science, writing and the process of telling stories for both old and new media.
“This mind-blowing experience was definitely worth missing the fireworks and holiday festivities with family on Independence Day,” said Haley Stracher, a senior at the College Academy at Broward College and one of the 19 participants in the program, which began July 4 and ends July 24.
The University of Miami’s School of Communication hosts the program, known as the Peace Sullivan/James Ansin High School Workshop in Journalism and New Media. The students, who come from high schools throughout South Florida, publish a newspaper, Miami Montage, and produce video stories and a web site. The workshop has been around since 1984.
The purpose of the program is to grow interest in journalism within students, said Yves Colon, the workshop’s director.
“It’s a great opportunity,’’ said Colon, who also teaches journalism at the School of Communication. “These young men and women will go on to become the journalists of tomorrow. We’ll be reading their stories in our newspapers and seeing their packages on television in college and professionally in the near future. They’re extremely bright and eager to learn.”
While at UM, the students live in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria.
“It’s an opportunity for them to experience the college life,” said Colon.
Workshop faculty members include Fred Blevens, a journalist who now teaches at Florida International University, and Donna Gehrke-White, a former Miami Herald writer and editor. Guest speakers include faculty from the School of Communication and working journalists from the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post. They lecture about writing, reporting and ethics and introduce students to the journalism industry.
“Being responsible for deadlines, waking up on time, doing my own laundry, and living with new people gave me a sense of independence I have never had before,” said Amanda Di Lella, 17, a senior at Felix Varela Senior High School.
Supporters include the Ansin Family Foundation and Peace Sullivan, along with the Dade Community Foundation and the Dow Jones News Fund. James Ansin, the general manager of WSVN- Channel 7, and Peace Sullivan, a former Associated Press journalist, also fund a partial scholarship for a workshop student to attend UM and major in communication.
Life in the freshman dormitory, as well as access to the gym on campus, makes the grueling schedule palatable for students, many of them say.
“When I spoke to one of the counselors a week prior to the workshop she told me it was like a bad hotel, but it’s not so bad after all,’’ said Anthony Cave, 17, a senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High.
“The air conditioner is cold, the community bathroom was a new experience, but I feel like I could do this every day,” Cave said.
A typical day starts early in the morning and often doesn’t end until late at night.
“Everything from card games till 2 in the morning, to stuffing our faces at the Chartwells dining hall. We have become better journalists, but most importantly developed eternal friendships,” said Armand Sepulveda, 17, a senior at Miramar High School.
Absorbing criticism is a major aspect in the world of journalism, a fundamental to make a story an even better one.
“Constructive criticism is key to evolving in the journalism business; it taught me to never take anything your editors say to heart,” said Christina Joyner, 17, senior at John I. Leonard High School in Palm Beach County.
This years’ theme focused on Haitian earthquake that shook the ground in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 and its impact on the South Florida community.
“I believe it’s important that we focus on Haiti as our theme for Miami Montage this year because a lot of people lost focus and almost forgot about such a disaster, especially once news coverage about the event ended,” said Nicole Martins of Cypress Bay High School.
Students often pair up to further their research and develop multimedia ideas.
“Through the questionable lead, the awesome cameras and gear, and the frustrating writing, it’s the bonding, the friendships we form that keep us going,” said Tomás Monzón, 16, a junior at South Miami High School.
It taught some of the students a lot about Haiti and their crisis, as well as some of the living conditions that still exist in Haiti, six months after the earthquake.
What united everyone was a common interest: passion for journalism and determination to produce stories that will last a lifetime.
“Not only have I been reassured that this is the right career choice for me, but I grew as a person,” Di Lella said.