By Tabitha Mueller
‘Twas the week before Christmas and two days before break, but the elementary and middle school students at the Honors Academy of Literature were far from silent. They moved noisily around their English Language Arts classroom, excitedly setting up chairs, preparing to showcase the video reports and audio projects they created after a three-month-long dive into the field of journalism.
Ben Contine and Taylor Kockenmeister, two middle school teachers at the Honors Academy of Literature, taught the students about journalism and had them develop a list of journalism ethics, read local newspapers, and write short news articles before launching the video report and audio projects.
The projects allowed the students to investigate a topic in-depth, interview members of the public about questions the students were curious to understand and utilize the skills they gained throughout the quarter.
Contine and Kockenmeister hoped the projects would inspire students to understand other perspectives and use skills they learned in school to tackle problems in their greater community. They partnered with This Is Reno and volunteers from UNR to help the students work on their audio and video reports.
Kockenmeister said, “We wanted students to learn about journalism to understand the value of their voice and the written/spoken word. It’s important for us as a school to create authentic, real-world learning opportunities for scholars to see the connection between their education and the world.”
Students’ video reports focused on the Yucca Mountain project, protecting Lake Tahoe from invasive species and water rights in Las Vegas as well as wild horses in Nevada and sea life pollution, among other environmental and social issues.
The audio projects were short vox pops, from the Latin phrase vox populi, meaning “voice of the people.” In journalism, vox pop refers to short interviews asking members of the public for their thoughts on a subject or question.
For the vox pop, students went to nearby coffee shops and parks and asked questions ranging from: “if you could know the answer to one question, what question would you ask?” to “what was your most memorable dream?”
Contine and Kockenmeister said they guided the projects and provided feedback, but the students picked the topics and created the reports.
Students reflect on their reports
The students’ passion for their projects was evident in their presentations as they braved fears of public speaking and shared their experiences with the class.
Many of the students spoke about the disappointment they felt after spending hours crafting emails asking for an interview only to have adults turn them away — something journalists face daily.
Despite the trouble getting interviews, students were enthusiastic about the help they received from groups such as the Fallon Naval Base, beekeeper Nan Vaughn, as well as Professor of Journalism and Latino Media Studies at UNR, Ezequiel Korin.
Maya Higmen said, “Even though it was difficult finding sources and finding the questions and writing down what they were saying because they were talking so fast, I enjoyed talking to [my sources]… They gave us helpful information, and they didn’t think, ‘oh these guys are children, I shouldn’t be serious with them.’”
Noah Robinson created a video report on the Yucca Mountain waste reservoir project. He said he picked the project because he wondered why the government chose to place nuclear waste in rural Nevada on a site sacred to the Shoshone and Paiute.
He described how he emailed Native American groups as well as the Nevada Waste Directory Organization. He said, “I enjoyed analyzing information, putting it into my own words, and seeing both sides of the story because usually, I see one side based on my opinion. But doing this, I can see both sides, and report on that.”
Another student, Benjamin Porter-Young, noted how interviewing for the audio projects helped him empathize with others, and gave him the confidence to talk with more people.
“A lot of people in public seem really weird, but actually they’re pretty nice, and you don’t know that until you talk with them,” he said, adding, “do a vox pop because it’s fun!”
In the next quarter, the students will create podcasts for the NPR Student Podcast Challenge.
This Is Reno is your source for award-winning independent, online Reno news and events since 2009. We are locally owned and operated.