One of the best things about being a journalism teacher is that virtually anything that happens can be a teachable moment.
Case in point: Here in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced yesterday evening that all public schools in the state would close for three weeks, beginning Monday, to contain the potential spread of coronavirus. That means some of my kids will lose some instructional time. But for the kids in my journalism class, this is an opportunity to practice what they’ve been learning in class in the most real-world setting imaginable. History is unfolding around them, and they’re covering it.
Last night, within 30 minutes of the governor’s announcement, several of my student journalists and I were on our phones, holding a meeting via text message to start planning our coverage of the school closure and its effects on our district. Several kids started doing online research to learn more about the virus and why the governor would close school for it. Others started brainstorming story ideas and coming up with lists of questions and sources they could chase down via phone or email to get information. My husband, who works for the local weekly newspaper, gave us a press release from the governor’s office that contained a link to the press conference she’d scheduled for this morning; several kids made the effort to get online and try to watch it this morning. (I’m not sure how many succeeded, because we all encountered some tech issues, but that’s OK — glitches are part of life in a newsroom, too.)
This morning, a kid texted to tell me she and her brother, who is also in the class, might not be able to catch the presser because they were out with their families and had dodgy internet service, but they planned to keep their eyes open and maybe take a few pictures and interview a few people if they saw anything relevant while they were out and about.
You can’t build a unit plan like that. Over the next three weeks, these kids are going to get lessons in science, civics, human psychology, and breaking-news coverage of the sort they’d never encounter in a classroom. And unlike a lot of other people their age, they’ll end up with a deep understanding of a current event and its impact on disparate groups within their community.
My kids are awesome.