Yajaira Perez lined up her reporter’s notebook, pen, and copy of “The New York Times” on her desk at Hostos Community College one October afternoon. She tugged at her grey cardigan and tapped her black ballet flats on the floor in front of her.
Eyes fixed on her editor, the 17-year-old sat, waiting for her assignment.
Perez is a high school senior learning the tricks of the reporting and writing trade in the Youth Journalism Initiative, a 12-week intensive enrichment program run by the Bronx News Network.
The Network, which publishes the “Norwood News,” “Tremont Tribune,” and “Mount Hope Monitor,” plans to publish the students’ work in a supplement called Bronx Youth Heard at the end of the term. The supplement will run in all three papers, to a total circulation of 25,000.
After a couple minutes, Perez’s editor, a.k.a. program head teacher Katina Paron, 36, called her dozen pupils to attention to receive their first assignment. “It’s Bronx news quiz time!” she said cheerily, to many grumbles.
Next on the agenda was the day’s main assignment– person-on-the-street interviews and photo-taking in groups of four. That Wednesday, students were expected to leave the comfortable cocoon of Hostos’s hallways and talk to strangers along the Grand Concourse. They developed their own questions, covering timely topics like the gay suicide at Rutgers and New York City’s potential soda tax.
As quickly as the teens had taken their seats, they were out of them again, armed with cameras (including program director Jordan Moss’s personal one) and 25 minutes for each group to talk to five people apiece.
Moss, 43, editor of the “Norwood News” and executive editor and publisher for the Network, finds this non-traditional part of his job compelling. “We’re doing this because we want to train the next generation of journalists at the grassroots and because Bronx teens have few if any way to communicate youth concerns to the general population,” he said. “Bronx Youth Heard is a megaphone and a training ground.”
“I like gathering news and sharing it with people who don’t know much about it,” said Perez’s friend Brittni Hefflin, also 17. Of the course she added, “It gives a sense of how college is going to be.” Hefflin, whose pink eyeshadow matched her Converse sneakers, hopes to study fashion merchandise and design at FIT. She aspires to be a fashion writer.
Paron expects hard work and great results from Hefflin and her classmates. “From what I see, kids in the program leave learning how to write more concisely and how to be effective researchers,” critical skills for college and beyond, she said. “They get a sense of their own power and that is exhilarating.”