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XIIIs Continue to Tell Stories and Advance Social Justice Causes Through the Newspaper

Deadlines in every press shop spark a flurry of activity—a last minute scramble to get stories and photos submitted, edited, and published. Despite the pandemic, the XIIIs—the journalists of C&C and the curators of the School Newspaper—and their Group Teachers were determined to keep the gears of the presses running smoothly and to further their understanding of social justice and action. This inspired a similar flurry: of creativity, innovation, and excitement for the possibilities.

When the pandemic hit New York City last year, the School’s immediate goals were supporting the C&C community, keeping community members safe, and creating a remote program to keep students learning in a way that captured as much of the C&C experience as possible. For the XIIIs, this included continuing to tell the stories of C&C, even before they were physically in the building to take photos and interview people in the community, and even though they were unable to print their Newspaper and sell it in the front lobby. But these limitations didn’t stop the presses. The XIIIs and their teachers—Ann Roberts, Trayshia Rogers, and Tyler Tarnowicz—put their heads together to reimagine the C&C Newspaper, Generation Zoom, for the 2020–2021 school year.  

The XIIIs turned their newly acquired Zoom skills toward interviewing students, faculty, and staff, and even taking photos of Groups at work. They used Google Classroom to begin the collaborative process of building their digital newspaper.

The platform was a great space to brainstorm story ideas, write articles, and edit pieces, but they knew this was not the right tool for sharing Generation Zoom with the community. Seeking a better option, the XIIIs reached out to Saber Khan, C&C’s new Coordinator of Instructional Technology, who suggested using the Glideapp platform to build a custom Newspaper app. Using these resources, the Group digitized the entire process of creating and distributing the Newspaper. In addition to expediting production and simplifying the editing process, going all-digital allowed them to incorporate multimedia and interactive elements in each issue, including videos, audio clips, playlists, and podcasts. It also had the added benefits of being more sustainable, saving paper and ink, while also bringing the Newspaper to a wider audience of community members than ever before. 

The XIIIs Teachers also tout the real-world benefits of the digital format. “The kids are learning to become more organized. They can’t pop into a classroom for interviews. They have to plan ahead, coordinate with teachers, schedule appointments, and show up on time,” said Trayshia.  

The ever-expanding possibilities have inspired both creativity and a heightened sense of commitment to the Newspaper Job for the students. 

“The process has become more engaging because it’s more relevant, and that makes it much easier for the XIIIs to buy into it. Each issue has gotten more and more robust. We started with no podcasts and a few games. Now we have games, crosswords, videos, audio features, and multiple podcasts,” said Tyler.

Having a larger audience has also been encouraging for the students. “With its digital platform, Generation Zoom reaches a much wider audience than earlier editions of the XIIIs Newspaper. Now our alumni and the parents of alumni are reading the paper,” said Ann. Like anyone working in the digital space, the students are also learning how to read Google Analytics data and are finding ways to use those metrics to improve the Newspaper by responding to the needs and preferences of their audience. 

There are some things that simply cannot translate to the digital platform. “We miss the Friday morning Newspaper sale in the front lobby and the theater around that,” said Trayshia. “And for the XIIIs, seeing other students in the Library with their newspapers was such a special part of the experience and a point of pride that we’re missing right now.”  

In addition to playing a vital role in keeping the school community informed, the Newspaper is also an outlet through which the XIIIs reflect on and draw parallels to what they are learning in the classroom, especially as it relates to social justice in current events. The crimes and injustices committed against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals across the country, and the protests and unrest that followed throughout the summer of 2020, provided a unique lens through which the students approached both their classroom learning and their work with the Newspaper this year.  

“The XIIIs curriculum over the past few years has been centered around the experience of African Americans,” said Trayshia. “Current events have created a live, interactive view of how things that happened before are impacting us right now, and how the African American experience of the past is being brought forth again in last summer’s social justice movement.” 

XIIIs began the new school year by watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a SingleStory” TED Talk, which explores the perils of only getting one side of a story. This provided a foundation upon which teachers could build a discussion about how to consider all the angles of a story and look for other perspectives—and why it is important to give a fuller picture of every experience. “As we know, there are a variety of stories and perspectives depending on what you look at, so we’re almost hunters for all the different angles to consider,” said Tyler.  

It is no coincidence that this is how the XIIIs approach learning: Questioning and critical study are crucial skills students use both in examining social justice issues and in their work on the Newspaper. Teachers across C&C encourage students to delve deeply into subjects and to gather information constantly to inform their own views, a skill that the XIIIs practice again and again to make their articles more thoughtful and balanced. 

“We want our students to be critical thinkers, who go out into society understanding that it’s more complex than their own lived experiences,” said Tyler. “Your experience is valid, although you’re not alone. It’s up to them to interrogate those other perspectives and find out why it is that others see it the way they see it.”

This careful examination and questioning of viewpoints has led to interesting and meaningful discourse within the Group. Teachers give students the space and the encouragement to have  conversations and ask questions they weren’t able to ask previously—usually out of fear of offending someone—or uncover information they’ve never been exposed to. 

“Like anything else, it takes practice, and students become more comfortable with it as we go along. There are moments when we debate, but that’s exactly what we want to have happen,” said Tyler. “We often say that the work we’re doing in the classroom is meant to translate outside of the classroom.”  

“I’m so proud of our XIIIs’ ability not just to grasp the subject matter, but to process and extend it so that their readers have an understanding and hopefully a broader and more balanced view of the issues facing the world,” said Trayshia. “It’s a complicated moment in many ways, but our XIIIs are showing us they’re able to rise and meet it.”

Click here to read the full article, including images and interactive links, in Issue IV of our magazine, Works in Progress.