Posted February 19, 2008

Program helps local high schools establish student newspapers, radio stations

Thanks to the Prime Movers program, students in Temple’s journalism program are getting a chance to share their knowledge with the next generation while seeing urban education up close.

For many journalists, the path to the newsroom began with a stint at the high school newspaper, radio station or television station.

But because of the economic realities of urban education, not all students are promised such opportunities, said Maida Odom, internship coordinator for Temple University’s Department of Journalism.

“The average suburban student gets a high school journalism experience, while the average urban student doesn’t,” she said.

An initiative that links Temple’s School of Communications, the School District of Philadelphia and a Washington, D.C.-based journalism program aims to change that for some Philadelphia students.

The Prime Movers/Philadelphia program is designed to help schools in districts that have no budgetary wiggle room to create school newspapers and radio station experiences for their students. The program pairs working journalists and college journalism students with high school students to create newspaper and radio opportunities.

Six Philadelphia schools served as a pilot for the Prime Movers/Philadelphia program last year, and another 18 have signed up for it this year, said Acel Moore, operations manager for the program. A $500,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the program and provides software and computers for the schools in the program.

When looking for a city in which to expand Prime Movers, which is based in George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, Philadelphia seemed like a natural choice, Moore said.

One, because the Knight Foundation is connected to Knight Ridder, the former owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, it has a longstanding relationship with the city, said Moore, an editor emeritus at the Inquirer.

And two, because many of the city’s journalists cite Temple as the place that started their careers, the university seemed like the most logical partner for creating the next generation.

“We asked Temple to be involved because it has a major communications program,” Moore said. “It’s been good for us, and we hope that it’s been good for Temple to be involved. Since this is the first exposure to journalism for some of these kids, maybe they’ll consider Temple when they want to go to college.”

Among the schools participating in the Prime Movers/Philadelphia program in the fall were Simon Gratz High School, Merrill Dobbins Vocational/Technical High School, the Academy at Palumbo, Overbrook High School, Abraham Lincoln High School and Frankford High School.

While passing on the skills needed to be a journalist was the major focus of the program, the Temple students also received some insight into the urban educational landscape — insight that might prove valuable should they opt to cover education.

Prime Movers/Philadelphia was also a collegiate learning experience for the Temple students. As part of the program, they spent time discussing readings from urban education experts including Jonathan Kozol, Miami Dade County Superintendent Rudy Crew and others that detail some of things they might see when they got to their assigned schools, Odom said.

Among the issues explored in those readings were the lack of resources faced by urban school districts, the pressures that teachers face, and how outside forces such as a student’s home life affect learning. Students also were required to write a paper detailing where their experiences and the readings met.

For P.J. Raduta, a junior majoring in English, there wasn’t much of an intersection. The aspiring teacher found that working in a magnet school was a lot different from the schools he had read about.

“I had done the reading about resources and [The Academy at] Palumbo felt like it belonged in the suburbs,” he said. “The students were strongly motivated and worked really hard.”

Meanwhile Joann Guerilus, a junior in Temple’s communications program, got a chance to see how much of a challenge it was to put out a newspaper in a place where resources were scarce.

“It was kind of slow at first,” she said. “[Gratz] didn’t have a newspaper for a long time because there was a lack of resources. But toward the end, the people who kept coming to the club had a passion for it. They made the most of it.”

And, the students said, there were victories that they could take with them.

“There was this kid that we kept trying to get to open up,” said Lorenzo Johnson, a junior broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media major who did his work creating a radio project at Overbrook. “He was great at editing, but I wanted him to get his voice out there. On the last day, he spoke up. I’m proud that he spoke up.”

Students have the option of taking this course as either an internship, a special projects course or an independent study course in the Department of Journalism. Registration for fall 2008 semester courses begins March 24.