Though most college students would dread going back to high school, a group of students at the University of Massachusetts do so every week.
On a Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. in late March, a group of students packed in a car, heading towards High School of Commerce, a turnaround school in Springfield.
“While there, I help students in their English, creative writing and journalism classes,” said Lily Hicks. “Some days I act as homework helper and other days, the best ones, I get to talk to students about news stories they’d like to write about their school and their community. Then I help them get to work writing them.”
Commerce is a high school with 77 percent of students from families with low-incomes, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Additionally, 15.5 percent of students speak a limited amount of English, and 28.6 percent are special education students.
Commerce is one of 12 schools in Springfield considered “underperforming” by the Commonwealth, and deemed a level four, or a turnaround school, based on low Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems (MCAS) test scores.
To help assist at Commerce, Nick McBride, an associate professor of journalism at UMass, created a class which “puts students into the homeless shelters, food pantries, health clinics, community centers, public schools, and low-wage job sites in hope of finding solutions and answers from the real experts,” according to the course description.
The course “allows the students a chance to have more classroom attention as we establish strong relationships with the students and to the communities often overlooked by mainstream journalism,” said Remy Schwartz, a student in the class.
He added, “Through one-on-one writing mentoring, we encourage the journalism students to develop a critical attitude towards the issues in the high school, at home, and on the streets of Springfield.”
Shamique White, a student in the Community Journalism class, said, “By introducing the craft of journalism to the high schools students, we are teaching them to be critical thinkers and give back to their community by encouraging them to write about things affecting their community to give voice to their community.”
Though usually the UMass group travels to Springfield, later this month the University students will travel with the students of Commerce to Washington, D.C.
While in the capital, the group will spend a weekend at the Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to journalism. “In addition to a comprehensive tour, our students will get a chance to take a tutorial class and record in one of the Newseum’s many television studios,” said Schwartz.
“I hope the trip to the Newseum will show the Commerce students just how truly amazing the journalism field is,” said Harmonie Charland, a UMass student in the Community Journalism class.
“Growing up in a poor inner city community myself, I know how seldom the chances of getting to travel outside of your city, never mind your state, can be,” said Charland. “I hope for the many Commerce students who have never traveled this will be a memorable experience for them. I also hope it will encourage them to pursue higher education which in turn may provide them with the kind of employment in which traveling may very well become a normal aspect of their lives.”
To pay for train fare, lodging, meals and museum admission, the group needs to raise $2000 by Thursday at 11:59 p.m. As of Monday night, the group had raised $1,437 through fundraisers, and private donations on the crowd funding website, IndieGoGo.com.
“I’m very proud of the hard work and dedication my classmates and I put forth to make this trip a reality,” said Charland, adding that she hopes the group meets their fundraising goal.
Donations can be made towards the trip at http://www.indiegogo.com/High-School-of-Commerce-Journalism-Trip-1?c=home.
“I hope for the kids to have a fun, unforgettable time there,” said White. “It’s good for them to see the world outside of Springfield and what better place to start than the Nation’s capital.