Two weeks after my freshman year in college, I retreated to my favorite spot in my hometown of South Pasadena, California. Tucked away on a corner of a one way street is a poorly ventilated little coffee shop with mismatched furniture and a chalkboard menu. From 2013-2015, you could find me at Kaldi’s more often than you could find me at home. After an exhausting first year away in college, I went back to that place to recharge in the midst of what was most familiar and comfortable.

And at the time I thought I was doing what I usually did. My best friend sent me a link to apply to Active Voice because he thought I’d be interested in the program. I had known the Student Press Law Center from a few years ago when my high school newspaper ran into a little bit of trouble. (Backstory: We published a photo of a student running around in a phallic costume in the middle of a school-wide assembly. Centerfold. The administration attempted to remove stacks of our issue, which then led us to reach out to the SPLC.) Once I started reading about Active Voice, I immediately connected to its mission. I just knew I needed to apply and, after taking a sip of coffee, I started clacking away at the application.

Starting from Kaldi’s in South Pasadena to plant a project in San Diego, traveling to Chicago and Miami, and now Washington D.C., to say that Active Voice pushed me out of my comfort zone would be inaccurate. Rather, it inspired me to find and enter spaces where I felt this work would be the most valuable. I wanted to work directly with high school girls in San Diego, where I currently go to college, and I wanted to offer mentorship, resources, and a platform for them to express themselves. It was important to me that Active Voice would offer them something that their public school wouldn’t otherwise and an experience that would shape their confidence.

I decided to create a free workshop series for local high school girls to learn from professional female journalists in the area. Over a five-week course on the weekends hosted at UC San Diego, 27 girls and five reporters focused on topics of news literacy, different kinds of news stories, writing strong pieces, and basic digital media skills.

These young women collaborated on distinguishing fake news from factual, dissected a mock public hearing to interview subjects and write stories, and took turns holding an Emmy of a photographer who came in to teach.

Sophia, a rising senior at Morse High School, wanted to be part of this program because she felt that her age shouldn’t be a reason for adults to dismiss her opinions.

“I would like to cover stories involving environmental issues, racial injustice, and anything that I find worthy enough of saying, ‘People need to know about this,’” she said. “Just because the future is in the hands of my generation, doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to involve ourselves in political, economic, or environmental issues now.”

They weren’t shy about diving into the issues. As part of a writing exercise, some other participants, Itzel, Jazlyn, and Kassy, wrote about the Trump administration’s threats to undermine women’s reproductive rights.

They brainstormed different ways to talk about racism at their schools, wanting to address how some students, who are not Black, nonchalantly use the ‘N’ word. Marie conducted initial interviews to gauge how students perceive the word’s usage. It was amazing to see the girls collaborate on different issues and use this workshop as a space to discuss ideas.

At the end of the workshop series, some girls wanted to do more with Active Voice, and it so happened that right around this time their school district was facing some challenges. San Diego Unified School District is notorious for its financial problems, and in February, it slashed over $120 million from its budget for the next academic year. In an effort to inform their community, confused students and parents, these girls will follow the deficit’s effects on their school come September.

I’m thrilled to continue to lead this project into the fall and work to make Active Voice a sustainable program in San Diego. After spending a few short weeks with these girls, I can’t wait to see what stories they’ll write and the impacts they’ll make.

Shine Cho was a fellow of the inaugural class of The Active Voice. Shine connected female students of Morse High School in San Diego with local professional women in journalism. After first learning about the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, the participants practiced spotting fake news. The students also received hands-on experience in reporting and news writing, while professional journalists gave direct feedback on their interviewing and writing skills.

Posted by Shine Cho

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