Evanston, IL — Curriculum that uplifts youth voices has redefined journalism education. We are in an age where student journalism is necessary because a lot of the issues we face proliferate into schools. For example, wider conversations about queer rights impact whether transgender teens can participate in sports or use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
It is essential that young adults learn how to uplift and advocate for themselves. This is best learned through other students. Not established reporters or even historical figures, but ordinary students who are successful in their reporting. Youth-reported stories relate and appeal to youth on a level that professionals cannot.
Working with YR Media, as a Teach YR National Youth Advisory Board Member, has allowed me to read and review journalism and media curricula developed by educators from across the nation. I always appreciate when teachers use their classroom space to highlight youth journalism. Molly Montogmery, a Curriculum Fellow with Teach YR, developed a curriculum that focused on her students exploration with identity, research and socio-emotional. Not only was the curriculum relatable because it highlighted personal narratives written by youth, but it also empowers them to share their personal mental health narrative.
My high school journalism class focused on reading and discussing the work of prolific writers. During a class session, we read articles about the January 6th insurrection written by experienced journalists who reported on location. While we gained a better understanding of how professionals report and craft persuasive stories, none of the pieces we read reflected on how the insurrection affected youth like us. We knew this event impacted us as much as the everyday adult, but we did not have the language or platform to express how.
The absence of a youth reported perspective made me believe that I needed to wait until I was a professional to make an impact or get published. It deterred me from expanding past the scope of my high school newspaper. However, regardless of seasoned reporters having 30+ years of journalism experience, many youth reporters are inciting change through their stories. Youth journalists have grit, perseverance and a desire to share their experiences with a larger community. These are qualities any reporter must embody to successfully get to the bottom of the story.
During junior year, my high school journalism adviser showed our class a youth-produced opinion piece that had won the New York Times student editorial contest. In the piece, 15-year-old Tony Xiao, examined trash talking in online gaming communities. He reflected on how it perpetuated white nationalist violence and a toxic cycle of racist, sexist and homophobic desensitization. I loved how the writer presented well-reasoned solutions to online toxicity while weaving in vivid language and interesting hypotheticals. Reading a story written by someone not much older than me empowered me. It made me realize that I could reach a larger audience with my work.
I was driven to submit a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times about the importance of media literacy in my school district. I noticed that while nearly every teen is surrounded by media during their day-to-day lives, many schools don’t have media literacy programs. “In the age of social media, the 24/7 news cycle and having endless sources of news available at our fingertips, it is important that we learn the fundamentals of media literacy. Now, more than ever, we must learn to be skeptical about the information we consume on a daily basis.”
To my surprise, it got published the next day. I started thinking larger, and got published in national magazines then well-known college newspapers. All because I saw myself represented in my journalism class’s curriculum.
As a Teach YR National Youth Advisory Board Member, I now have the opportunity to make sure youth see themselves. I am able to encourage educators like Montomery to represent the youth experience. Montgomery uses youth-written articles such as “FOMO: Don’t be Afraid to Stay in” and “Learning to Appreciate Myself Among Toxic Competition” to guide student discussions on personal narratives and advice articles.
I know that stories and curriculums such as this will inspire the future generation of youth to make an impact now. Even if they don’t have a degree in journalism.
Iliana Garner (she/her) studies journalism and international studies at Northwestern University. In her free time, she writes a blog about snails which you can find at JustaSnail.com.
Edited by Nykeya Woods