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A Student Shares His Virtual SRL Summer Academy Experience

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Learn more about PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs here.

Every year, PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs (SRL) hosts a Summer Academy, bringing students together from all over the country to hone fundamental video journalism skills. But, like many plans this year, the academy shifted online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of meeting for a week in person, students worked in groups, virtually, over nine weeks to produce stories around a central theme. 

Harlow Frank is a junior at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Los Angeles. He was one of four SoCal students represented at the SRL Academy this year. Read his reflection below and watch the story he produced as part of the Academy!

Harlow Frank | Courtesy of SRL
Harlow Frank | Courtesy of Student Reporting Labs

The following reflection is republished from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School's student news site, The Pearl Post.

I was so excited to join the Student Reporting Labs Summer Academy in Arizona at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism (ASU) but 2020 had a different plan in mind.

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs is a program that takes a select group of 30 students from 17 different states and helps them improve on skills such as digital media, broadcasting and communication skills. The academy takes place throughout the summer for nine weeks.

This year’s SRL team had to face a new challenge, COVID-19. This affected the whole academy due to travel restrictions. Due to this, the academy was held virtually through Zoom and Google Hangout sessions. Even as the SRL team faced a difficult challenge, they overcame it and adapted to the situation and still made the academy feel comfortable as if we were interacting with the other fellows physically. Naturally, this year’s main focus was remote interviewing due to the social distancing restrictions this year.

I was a little nervous to join a Zoom call with 30 random students from different states but I later learned that I would meet some of the nicest people and create some great friendships. Once I got a chance to know everyone, it felt like I knew some of these people even as we were behind a screen.

During my nine weeks in the academy, I worked on a mental health piece on senior Valery Barerra where she talked about her family and her mental health through this pandemic. My final project was another mental health piece on senior Jose Ramirez, as he talks about how he and his family are dealing with staying home and how some of the riots after the Black Live Matter protests in Van Nuys affected him.

I was challenged by the fact that I could not interview them in person. So I had to conduct remote interviews over Zoom. It wasn’t the best quality but I learned some techniques to make it a great quality video, even as the interview was over a web call.

Fellows and mentors met remotely on Zoom calls, this is where we discussed plans and ideas we have for projects. Most days, we met with our separate and much smaller group and talked about the pandemic and how we were feeling. Other days we met as a whole academy and had icebreaker sessions and watched some of SRL’s latest projects.

My nine weeks had to come to an end as I attended the 2020 SRL showcase where each group showed their final projects to an audience of over 200 people. It might have not seemed like a lot of people to me at the time, but it was kind of nerve-wracking to have over 200 people watch something you’ve worked on.

Earlier this year, I signed up for this academy not thinking I was going to be accepted but when I got the email that I would be joining them this summer, I was ecstatic. Everyone around me told me that this is a great opportunity and this is going to help me with the path that I will end up taking. I’m so glad that I sent that application.

Harlow’s story is an interview with student Jose Ramirez about how his family is adapting to life under quarantine and processing the recent uprisings in Los Angeles. 


Watch more student-produced stories from the Academy here.

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