East Harlem Students Tackle the News From Every Angle

Students at East Harlem’s MS 57/James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy went from being the subjects of a news story to learning how to be smarter news consumers and, finally, to creating news reports of their own while participating in an after-school newspaper club as part of the partnership between the News Literacy Project and Bloomberg News.

On the morning of March 12, three weeks into the after-school program, an explosion caused by a gas leak destroyed two apartment buildings just blocks from the school. The school filled with smoke, prompting school administrators to impose a soft lockdown that confined students to their classrooms for hours. For days after the blast, the Red Cross used the school gym as a command center to help displaced residents, several of whom were family members or friends of MS 57 students.

The after-school program was canceled on the day of the explosion. A week later, Bloomberg journalists returned to the school for a workshop on photojournalism, during which they used photos of the blast to teach the students the fundamentals of composition.

Over the following weeks, students would learn how to incorporate the whole experience into their reporting as they prepared to launch the school’s first newspaper with the help of a dozen Bloomberg volunteers.

The program was designed to teach students the basics of reporting, writing and photography and to show them how they can become more discerning news consumers. Students gained a foundation in the core principles of quality journalism, including its obligation to the truth, its discipline of verification and the need for its practitioners to remain independent — all the while reporting on one of the most significant events in their school’s history.

The program wrapped up with the publication of the first issue of Tiger Pride News. The lead story featured the news that the school had been honored by the area’s assemblyman for its work with the Red Cross; the off-lead examined the impact of the explosion on MS 57 students.

“I personally saw the transformation from naïve students to fearless, go-getter reporters, photographers and editors,” said Miriam Castro-Campos, the teacher who led the after-school program. “If you don’t believe me, ask our principal and everyone else they chased around the school. You all taught them well!”

The 2014-2015 school year is MS 57’s third year as a participating school with NLP. The program is sponsored by Bloomberg.