Youth reporters explore how DACA debate impacts California’s classrooms

As DACA’s fate continues to hang in the balance between the White House and Congress, schools across the country are faced with student anxiety over their Dreamer status and their family’s future. Especially hard hit is California, where one in eight public school students are from mixed status families, meaning one or more parent is undocumented, according to the nonprofit Education Trust.

Feeling the impact of immigration rhetoric and policy, high school junior Fernando Cienfuegos wanted to tell the stories of students and teachers in southern California. In October, he pitched a DACA story as part of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program.

Months of research, interviews, transcription and production followed and on January 30, 2018, Fernando’s story made it on the PBS NewsHour broadcast, which reaches over 1.8 million viewers.

Fernando interviewing Paulina, an undocumented student attending community college in Southern California.
Students from Northview High School and SRL staff work together to shoot Fernando’s interview with Paulina.

“To tell this story during a very important moment in our country has made me feel both proud and humbled,” Fernando said after the story aired. “If viewers can come away with a different perspective on the undocumented community of students, regardless of where they are from, it would definitely create a better world for all of us and a better place to live.”

Northview Media Arts Teacher Amy Woods says that having the opportunity to work with the NewsHour and broadcast to a national audience is is transformative. “No matter how much we teach in the classroom and studio at school, there is no better example of what working in news is truly like than getting the actual experience of producing a piece with the Student Reporting Labs team,” she said.

Fernando celebrates the premiere of his story.

“Fernando received invaluable feedback from producers and editors at PBS.  He also had to use critical thinking skills in the moment when interviewing subjects. All of our students who worked on the piece walked away with a true appreciation for journalism and production and they brought that knowledge and experience back with them to our program here at Northview.”

While the student producers learned about the impact of DACA and how school systems view their responsibility to educate all students, they also discovered things about themselves.

“I’ve always liked talking and never really expected it to take me here, where I’ve been given the opportunity to work on a story that could reach hundreds of thousands of people,” said Fernando. “As a student reporter I couldn’t be any more happy with what I’ve learned about my new found passion in journalism and can’t wait to continue telling the stories that matter, educating the greater audience.”