From mariachi music to cabaret theater, student reporters produce stories on music and performance at SRL’s first Winter Academy

By Keegan Brooks

Thirteen high school student journalists from a dozen states gathered in Austin in December for PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ Winter Academy, five days of journalism training and hands-on story production where students worked in teams to produce news reports on Austin-based musicians and performance artists.

Held in collaboration with Austin PBS, this was the first SRL Winter Academy, a new addition after ten years of the SRL Academy being held each summer in June.

Students worked together in small groups to produce original video news reports, guided by SRL staff, local educators, and other professional journalists. Training during the academy included workshops on video production and post-production, from interviewing and scripting to filming and editing. See more behind-the-scenes footage of the week here.

“The Winter Academy brought together amazing journalism students from around the nation to learn from professionals, to learn from each other, and to do so while reporting on artists or musicians in the Austin area,” said SRL Youth Media Producer Chris Schwalm. “It’s also about bringing like-minded young people together to build a community of those who are really motivated and interested in telling the stories of their communities from a youth perspective. Which is really so important yet so rare and hard to find these days.”

The end result was four video reports, covering stories from a Grammy-nominated musician with an educational foundation in Austin, to a Latinx theater company reclaiming their heritage through a cabaret-style show.

Students who took part not only learned valuable skills they could take back to their high school student news programs but also got to work with like-minded peers collaboratively.

“The most memorable part of the SRL Winter Academy is what it was like working in a small group,” said senior Jordan Fabirkiewicz. “I felt the memories and things we did together will always hold a really special spot in my heart.

Victor Fernandez, director of the SRL Youth Media Program, described the energy of all the students involved as a critical component of the event.

“The highlight for me is the enthusiasm that students have to learn, to grow, and to advance their knowledge in journalism and storytelling,” said Fernandez. “They get the experience of working with somebody who’s a professional in the field and is going to teach them a few things before they head back to their schools and apply those skills in their programs.”

Additional support for the program was provided by Austin Community College and the Google News Initiative.

Meet the teams:

Watch: Austin educator celebrates Mexican culture by teaching mariachi music, where students produced a story about how Austin educator Susana Diaz-Lopez keeps Mexican culture alive by teaching traditional mariachi music to a new generation of students. 

The team: Aron Andrew Sanchez, a senior at Brentwood High School in Brentwood, New York; Desha Madhavan, a sophomore at Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia; Maggie LeBeau, a senior at Glenbar East High School in Lombard, Illinois; and Jordan Fabirkiewicz, a senior at Fraser High School in Fraser, Michigan.

Team mentors: Victor Fernandez, SRL’s Director of Youth Media Programs, and Mercedes Ezeji, an SRL alum and journalist.

Watch: This Grammy-nominated musician teaches kids to “be the change”, where students produced a story about SaulPaul, a 3x Grammy-nominated Austin-based singer/songwriter who works to spread hope, inspiration, and empowerment.

The team: Ana Sofia Contreras, a sophomore at the Beaverton Academy of Science and Engineering in Hillsboro, Oregon; Layla Benoit, a junior at the College Street Vocational Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Marshal Smith, a sophomore at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Delaware.

Team mentors: Chris Schwalm, a Youth Media Producer at SRL, and Anne Arceneaux, an educator at Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Watch: Latinx theater company aims to reclaim heritage through cabaret-style show, where students produced a story about ProyectoTEATRO, a theater company that aims to promote and preserve Latin American culture through the arts in Spanish. 

The team: Journey Love Taylor, a junior at Wauwatosa West High School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin; Marcos Jaasiel Mendez Sanchez, a junior at Kipp Legacy High School in Kansas  City, Missouri; and Natalie Grace Erzal, a junior at Rouse High School in Leander, Texas.

Team mentors: Tara Bordeaux, a storytelling educator in Austin, and Gil Garcia, an SRL instructor and consultant.

Students produced a story on how musician Carrie Rodriguez keeps her Latino heritage alive through music. Check back here for the link. 

The team: Jaylin Moses Lilly, a senior at York Suburban Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania; Macayla Ramsey, a junior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan; and Olivia Brandeis, a junior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California.

Team mentors: Leah Clapman, SRL Founder and Executive Director, and Trina Moore, an educator at Spring High School in Texas.