by Fernando Quintero
The summer of '96 will long be remembered as a time when my faith in our nation's youth was solidly reaffirmed.
During the first two weeks of June, I was invited to be a volunteer co-director and instructor of an in-residence high school journalism workshop held at San Jose State University. The workshop, which is entering its fourth year, encourages high school students from low-income and underrepresented ethnic backgrounds to pursue careers in journalism.
As Berkeley's representative on the volunteer teaching staff, the campus served as a partner in a program that supports the goals of Chancellor Tien's Berkeley Pledge, a statewide effort to revitalize the partnership between Berkeley and the California school system.
Sixteen students from high schools throughout the South Bay participated in the workshop, which culminates in the production of an eight-page newspaper. We used the offices of San Jose State's student newspaper, the Daily Spartan.
My first order of the day was to make sure there were enough donuts, bagels, fruit and breakfast cereal in the newsroom. After breakfast, my two co-directors and I critiqued the local newspaper with the students, and then sent them out on their story assignments.
On the first day, the students were to bring at least two story ideas. Most of them brought several. Their ideas seemed overly ambitious and naive. But by the end of the program, the students had turned their ideas into polished articles worthy of publication in a major metropolitan daily.
We taught them the basics. My favorite part of the workshop was imparting my words of wisdom on reporting and interviewing techniques. And I shared with them what a journalism instructor once told me: "You are all terrorists with notepads. Say, 'information is mine.' Say it!"
Before we knew it, the students were grilling politicians over the phone as if they were the crew of "60 Minutes."
The students came from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and the mix of stories in The Mosaic, the workshop newspaper, reflected their diversity. Of all the stories I was responsible for editing, one of the my favorites was an editorial opinion written by 17-year-old Divina Ojascastro, a Filipina from San Jose who criticized the federal application for naturalization, calling it outdated and inappropriate.
"Besides prostitution, this federal government questionnaire asks about gambling, drinking and polygamy. American citizens have the right to solve their own personal problems," she wrote. "As for having more than one spouse, we shouldn't judge other people's cultural beliefs and practices by our American standards."
I was so proud of her. Proud of them all. And so relieved to see that the next generation of students is indeed aware and concerned. What's more, their diligence and commitment to quality journalism gave me a renewed commitment to my profession.
By the end of the program, as with any intense shared experience, the students, my co-directors and I bonded. On the last day, the students, who made me feel every bit my age and more, turned on the boombox and played "Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees, a rap group of the moment, while I sang to them the original version by Roberta Flack. They told me how the music of my high school years, the '70s, was back, so I showed them how to do "The Hustle."