A program that brings students and professional journalists into local high schools to teach journalism has renewed a grant to continue its philanthropic mission.
The GW-sponsored Prime Movers journalism outreach program has renewed its Knight Foundation grant to bring journalists from major news media outlets in the Washington area to local high schools. The $200,000 grant will help the organization compensate area journalists for their time while covering equipment and administrative costs.
Prime Movers brings journalists to schools from organizations like USA Today, National Public Radio and The Congressional Quarterly for four to five weeks during the school year. Together with GW interns, participants meet with and mentor students in journalism classes and clubs, and work to begin or strengthen student media.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to “improving journalism world-wide,” according to its Web site. Funds from the foundation has covered the major expenses of the program since its inception in 2004 and provided Prime Movers with over $500,000 to date.
GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs acts as a facilitator for the program by providing interns to help staff the initiative and organizational structure.
“News media are willing to be involved in these programs but they don’t have the infrastructure to make this happen,” said Dorothy Gilliam, founder of the program and former Washington Post columnist.
Gilliam came to GW in 2003 with the purpose of establishing an outreach program that would bring experienced journalists to mentor high school students, particularly in racially diverse or disadvantaged schools.
The idea was to revitalize student media in high schools with minority students, who Gilliam said are more likely to enter the news business if they are exposed to it in high school.
Inspiration for the program came to Gilliam from a similar initiative at the Post called Young Journalists Development Program. With the help of SMPA associate professor Albert May, she developed the program into an organized regular initiative in fall 2004.
Every year, GW has sent several interns to the schools. They receive an initial training course on mentoring from Prime Movers and are, in turn, mentored by the journalists. The interns tend to be journalism students.
Over this three-year period, there have been 22 GW interns, with six this semester. The students are unpaid, but earn credit hours for their participation.
“Prime Movers has proven to be a great way for our SMPA students to connect with the local community,” SMPA Director Lee Huebner said. “They get to work with top journalists from the D.C. area, even as they mentor high school students in the D.C. area. The program provides an extraordinary learning opportunity for everyone involved.”
Sophomore Molly Wade is an intern this semester and said the experience has been rewarding for her.
“I love seeing how proud these students get when they get to a third or fourth draft and realize that they wrote something really great,” she wrote in an e-mail last week. “So many of them have such difficult situations at home, it is very fulfilling to see them get excited about creating quality pieces.”
“I would tell other students interested that while this may not be the most gritty inside look at the industry, it is certainly the most fulfilling and eye-opening internship they will probably ever have,” she said.
Gilliam said she has been increasingly pleased with the successes of her program. She is especially encouraged by progress at Ballou Senior High School in Anacostia, Md.
Ballou has traditionally had high drop-out rates and is located in a notoriously dangerous part of the city. Gilliam said that it is encouraging to see students go on from there to college and study journalism, which Prime Movers has helped some to do.
The Knight Foundation has asked Gilliam to look into expanding her program to Philadelphia. She is in contact with three schools there and will soon present a proposal to the Foundation for the expansion.
This article appeared in the November 6, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.