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Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Journey into journalism: DreamCatchers program educates students in need

PROUD OF THE PRODUCT — A participant looks closely at the finished magazine. Counselor Holden Lee enjoyed watching students face their fears of sharing their work. “Some of them were pretty nervous, but everyone got through it,” Lee said. “Everyone had a smile on their face at the end.” Photo: Grace Gormley

Seventy six percent of surveyed professional reporting journalists in the United States are white, according to the Pew Research Center.

When Palo Alto High School senior Grace Gormley set out to identify an issue in a field of her choosing for her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she came across this alarming statistic.

“I love Paly journalism,” Gormley said. “A problem with it is that it doesn’t represent the greater Paly community, and that’s also a problem with journalism in general. So I figured, ‘how can I address the root cause of this?’”

Gormley received a Media Arts Center innovation grant to fund the camp, a cash fund dedicated to supporting student projects, which was used to to cover the costs of printing the magazine.

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“The MAC innovation grant was a big part of the reason that I was able to print physical magazines for all the kids to have,” Gormley said. “That was a super important part of the project for me.”

Gormley ran the program through DreamCatchers, an organization that aims to close the opportunity gap in Palo Alto’s middle schools by providing after-school enrichment, tutoring and summer programs to low-income students. According to Palo Alto Unified School District, an ever-present achievement gap shows a noticeable separation between the academic achievement of white and Asian students versus Black and Latino ones, with a specific disadvantage for students from low-income families.

“I was hoping for maybe 20 kids,” Gormley said. “But then DreamCatchers liked the curriculum that I had written and they adopted it as part of their summer program. It expanded from there, because instead of teaching maybe 20 kids, I ended up teaching about 75.”

A lot of them were afraid to present theirs at the end, so it was really nice giving them that little push they needed to get through it and seeing how excited they were.”

— Anne Threlkeld, counselor

Gormley worked with DreamCatchers to design curriculum for children in sixth through ninth grades. The 10-day class was spread over four weeks during the summer.

“A lot of it was based off of my own experiences in Beginning Journalism, off of certain things that I liked learning about,” Gormley said. “And then some of that came from my own process of thinking of story ideas and writing stories.”

Part of DreamCatchers’ mission is to provide opportunities for older students and community members to share their knowledge and experiences through their own, self-designed curricula. Students work with a varying amount of supervision to create their programs.

“We very much source [curricula] from within our community so that students are building a larger community around them and having different people provide this learning,” DreamCatchers Executive Director Nicole Chiu-Wang said. “It’s really up to them [the students who propose the projects] to design. If they have something and they want input, we’re happy to provide that. We’ve been really blessed to have students come with really fully-fleshed out, very professional ideas for programs and content that they want to provide to our [middle school] students.”

Gormley hopes that in future summers, her curriculum will continue to benefit kids in need all over the country.

“I created a website with all the resources I used,” Gormley said. “[The website has] all the tips and tricks and the curriculum and all the slides, so that I could share it with teachers from around the country and try and expand it that way.”

Even after her time at Paly is over, Gormley hopes that future students and teachers, as well as the DreamCatchers organization, will continue the project.

“I am hoping to make sure that it can be repeated with DreamCatchers every year,” Gormley said. “I want to be there next summer to help with that transition, but I hope that it can become its own freestanding project without my intervention.”

We very much source [curricula] from within our community so that students are building a larger community around them and having different people provide this learning.”

— Nicole Chiu-Wang, DreamCatchers executive director

Paly senior Anne Threlkeld, one of the counselors involved, said that she found the experience educational for herself as well, despite not being a journalism student herself.

“I learned some new things myself,” Threlkeld said. “Because it [the camp] is at a middle school level, it mostly used similar writing techniques to what I’ve learned [in school].”

For Threlkeld, one of the best parts of working as a counselor was getting to watch the campers grow more confident in their work and themselves.

“A lot of the kids learned a lot by the end of it,” Threlkeld said. “Every person had to do a final spread, and a lot of them were afraid to present theirs at the end, so it was really nice giving them that little push they needed to get through it and seeing how excited they were.”

Counselor and Paly junior Holden Lee said that the experience was a rewarding one as it gave the campers a head start in the Paly journalism program and a new interest in journalism.

“I’m really glad that we were able to share journalism with these kids, especially because a lot of them are underprivileged,” Lee said. “Being able to expose them to Paly journalism early on … I think that’s a great thing, and I really hope all of them pursue journalism.”

While the purpose of the camp was in part to teach students about journalism, Gormley thinks that the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with contributing to a publication was something that she wished to instill in the campers.

“Anyone who has been in a publication knows the excitement and pride they get when they see the physical magazine with their work in it,” Gormley said. “I really wanted all my students to get the same experience.”

Does Paly journalism need to increase diversity?