Teen journalists report on the effects of COVID-19 from home

Washington, DC  More than two dozen middle and high school students across the country participated in a special virtual fellowship with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) this spring and summer where they worked with news professionals to remotely produce pieces on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on various communities. 

During this 10-week fellowship, students participated in a series of virtual workshops with producers and special guests while simultaneously working on their own pieces. Twenty-seven students were divided into five groups led by SRL producers. Groups tackled different themes with the goal for each SRL Fellow to produce a digital-first news story examining the lives of different people dealing with the long-term effects of the pandemic. 

Fellows were instructed to use the principles of mobile journalism and received journalism toolkits consisting of special equipment such as ring lights, Apple AirPods, and tripods to produce their pieces. Guest speakers provided additional expertise and helped students connect their remote work to the changes professional journalists and producers were making in their own work during the pandemic. 

Amna Nawaz, Senior National Correspondent and substitute anchor for the NewsHour, hosted an “Art of Storytelling” workshop; four producers from the PBS American Portrait project talked to students about the lessons they learned by producing remotely; and Marcia Chatelain, professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University, hosted a special talk about race and justice against the backdrop of the growing movement for racial equality following the death of George Floyd.  

Students faced a variety of circumstances throughout, such as navigating the pandemic while finishing school and taking on jobs to help their family but finished strong with a celebratory virtual showcase on June 26, 2020.  

To read more about the individual group video productions, see below.

SRL Student Academy Groups

Underrepresented Communities by “Reporting Lab Rats”

SRL youth media producer Marie Cusick led Team Reporting Lab Rats as they tackled stories about underrepresented communities during the pandemic. Harlow Frank from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in  Los Angeles profiled a teen who reconnected with his father during lockdown. Sophie McDonough from the Health and Science School in Beaverton, Oregon explored how queer and homeless youth are navigating unstable circumstances. Kat Gonzalez from Canyon High School in Santa Clarita, California profiled punk guitarist William Weinberg about struggling with sobriety at home. 

Mental Health by “The Yeehaws”

Team Yeehaws, a group composed of teens from Texas and led by SRL digital producer Rawan Elbaba focused on how the pandemic is magnifying mental health issues. David Kang from Westwood High School in Austin, Texas followed a student who found it difficult to maintain his ADHD while home under lockdown. Alexa Blanco from Navarro Early College High School in Austin, Texas told a personal narrative about juggling multiple jobs and the reality of a virtual high school graduation. Justin Sybron from Oak Ridge High School in Conroe, Texas interviewed a star athlete about adjusting to new routines, and Miki Chhun from Jersey Village High School in Houston, Texas speaks with a teen dealing with depression and anxiety amidst lack of support from family members.

Climate Change by “The Midtimes Journal”

The Midtimes Journal, led by SRL associate youth media producer Becky Wandel examined how COVID-19 is highlighting urban inequities and rural vulnerabilities under the threat of climate change. Ellie Wirtz from Black River Falls High School in Black River Falls, Wisconsin interviewed a dairy farmer who says COVID-19 has been “devastating” for business. Mikayla Bloom from Trumbull Career and Technical Center in Champion, Ohio spoke to Representative Michael O’Brien about how the state government is working to protect rural economies from climate change. Hannah Bradley from Cleveland Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio talked to Ryan Richards, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress who says preparing rural economies for climate change is imperative. Elliot Corbin from Frederick V. Pankow Center in Clinton Township, Michigan reached out to the University of Michigan’s Dr. Trish Koman who warned that air pollution could be worsening the COVID-19 pandemic in Detroit, with African American communities in the city as particularly vulnerable. And Tranaye’ Hayes from Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan followed Nineska Brock who lives with asthma and COPD in the most polluted area of Detroit about how she’s managing her illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unemployment by “Turtle Sink”

SRL youth media producer Victor Fernandez coached Team Turtle Sink. The group of six students explored the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their hometowns. Tashi Mathuin from Cody High School in Cody, Wyoming explored how national park closures due to COVID-19 have affected Yellowstone’s visitations. In San Diego, California, Yeonseo Seok from Westview High School, profiled the owner of Stronghold JiuJitsu, a small business working to safely reopen its doors. Grace Gibbs from Madison Senior High School in Rexburg, Idaho talked to Ashley Dredge, a teen who continues to work two part-time jobs in the time of COVID-19. 

All the way west in Kauai, Hawaii, Kate Nakamura from Kauai High School talked to a part-time helicopter mechanic assistant who had high hopes of becoming a full-time employee after graduation. Rose Hoover from Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami, Florida looked at how social distancing and business closures made summer internships near impossible for teens across the country and how it is directly impacting students in the Miami-area. And Sienna Racoma from Maui Waena Intermediate School on Maui, Hawaii talked to her siblings about their parents losing their jobs and trying to find safe work.  

Essential Worker by “The Essentials”

Team Essentials, led by SRL youth media producer Eli Kintisch, followed different people working on the frontlines of the pandemic. Bridgette Adu-Wadier from TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia followed Jony Acuna who took a job as a cashier at Chipotle when his dad lost his job. Cecelia Spencer from University View Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana talked with Dr. Rani Whitfield, known as “Tha Hip Hop Doc,” who treats a largely African American population in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as they struggle through the pandemic. Kallie Griffin hopes one day to be a doctor. Kevin Myers from Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia profiled a nurse who took a position in a COVID-19 ICU to serve her community and learn about medicine on the front lines of a terrifying war.

In Louisville, Kentucky, Maddie Weis from Pleasure Ridge Park High School reported on the impact of the virus on UPS and profiled Joe Ireland weighs shipping containers at UPS Worldport in Louisville. April Merino from Cape May Technical High School in Cape May, New Jersey interviewed  Arcenia Reyes who talks about how her family’s Mexican restaurant is struggling to stay afloat.  Finally, Kaleb Hernandez from Legacy Early College High School in Greenville, South Carolina talked with Dr. Angelica Perez, a clinical psychologist and a director of innovation and development at the Addiction Research Center at Clemson University. 

Additional Academy Activities

Several fellows also contributed their voices to special COVID-19 episodes on the YouTube show, Above the Noise, through SRL’s partnership with KQED. Students will share their experiences of how they are coping with the coronavirus pandemic and how they are taking stock of their mental health.

Full Project Playlist

WATCH the full playlist of stories produced by SRL fellows in quarantine. 

About the 2020 Academy Fellows

LEARN more about each of the students here.