Learn more about PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs here.
Adriana Chavira is playing an important role in mentoring a new generation of journalists as she works hand-in-hand with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs to teach high school students how to find, investigate and report accurate and important stories to the public.
PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, a youth journalism extension of the national news broadcast PBS NewsHour, supports teachers and students with lesson plans, project-based learning and a network of mentorship that includes local and national public media organizations, including PBS SoCal. Chavira, a teacher at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, first applied to be an SRL teacher in 2012. She uses the SRL curriculum and assignments to help her students implement journalistic practices and ethics in stories that are published on SRL’s website, and in some cases, are featured on PBS NewsHour episodes.
“The kids grow up familiar with PBS because they watched children’s television on there,” Chavira said. “And as they get older, they start becoming familiar with PBS NewsHour. So, to them it opens their eyes that some of their work can be seen by people outside of their school.”
Chavira received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge in 1993. She worked as a reporter for 10 years, writing for Southern California publications including the Whittier Daily News, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, The Desert Sun in Palm Springs and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside. She received her master’s degree in English education from CSUN in 2007.
“I don’t have a broadcast background so I rely heavily on the lessons and the guidance from SRL,” Chavira said. “I decided to join because we had a website and we had some good videos but I was very limited in my knowledge on that. So, they really helped us with that.”
Her interest in teaching was sparked when volunteering with the California Chicano News Media Association: Latino Journalists of California. Chavira assisted with journalism workshops at different high schools for several years; this set the foundation for her work today.
Chavira began teaching at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in 2009, where she currently oversees the media production classes, The Pearl Post website and award-winning The Pearl Post news magazine, which the L.A. Press Club has named Best High School Newspaper four times. She also teaches photography and a section of English.
“I feel like she really wants to see us improve in our writing skills, in our communication and interviewing skills and broadcasting skills,” said Harlow Frank, a Daniel Pearl Magnet High School senior and one of Chavira’s students. Frank is also The Pearl Post’s digital media editor-in-chief and was one of the 30 student fellows who attended the virtual 2020 SRL academy over the summer, where SRL students from across the country covered the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on various communities.
The students in Chavira’s media classes work on their assignments for their school’s publications and the assignments for SRL simultaneously. Their most recent works include “Latino students on why it’s hard to talk about mental health” and “My Barbie was a brain surgeon.”
The program’s connection to PBS NewsHour gives Student Reporting Labs students the opportunity to share their perspective on the national news broadcast. Students record their opinions, or “Rapid Responses,” on specific topics, and PBS NewsHour producers select a few videos to feature on the show. The first feature from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School on PBS NewsHour consisted of student reactions to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Although a grim topic, Chavira said she believes seeing their voices included on a national platform was encouraging for her students and it gave them an incentive to keep sharpening their skills with the program.
“If any of their videos have been shown on PBS NewsHour … I always make sure to show it to the whole class, and so they feel really proud of that,” Chavira said.
To set up her students for SRL assignments, Chavira places them into groups to begin brainstorming story ideas with each other. Then, she instructs them on how to conduct open-ended interviews and provides suggestions on footage sequencing. Frank describes Chavira’s teaching style as very engaging.
“She’ll help you with whatever you have to do with PBS,” Frank added. “She’s always communicating with everybody just so they know they’re on top of their work and just making sure everyone is doing their jobs.”
In addition to her mentorship, Chavira assists students with non-academic challenges they may face when completing their assignments. Transportation is a common issue for students when deciding on story ideas, considering most them do not drive and they need to conduct interviews and capture footage in their community. Chavira helps her students by driving them to interviews when she can.
To help them understand the different stages of production and editorial output, Chavira keeps all of her students involved with the different aspects of publication. Then, students decide if they want to focus primarily on either the digital portion of recording and editing videos, or they take part in the writing, interviewing and reporting tasks of production. Putting this into practice in both SRL and Chavira’s media classes allows young journalists to figure out their interests. In Frank’s case, he has gained experience in video production and plans to attend college next year with the aspiration of majoring in broadcast journalism.
This school year will be a little different with LAUSD implementing distance learning due to pandemic precautions, but Chavira and her students will be working diligently from home to continue reporting important stories about their communities and sharing them online.