By Danette Thompson
Originally published in Suburban Journals
Taking an opportunity to broaden their view of the world around them, 13 area middle school and high school students recently took a trip to gain new perspectives on issues that have impact globally as well as locally.
The students, winners of an essay contest co-sponsored by Civitas in Creve Coeur and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, based in Washington, D.C., spent four days in the nation's capital, experiencing the role of journalists and studying ways to improve a program that connects students with international reporters.
"My friends and many Americans, I think, have a very narrow view of the world," said Claire Meyer of St. Louis, a senior at Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. "They don't look beyond what's going on in their own backyard. This was an opportunity to step out of the bubble."
Civitas and the Pulitzer Center share the aim of motivating middle school and high school students to become informed and active citizens.
Two years ago, Pulitzer, partnering with Civitas, piloted the Global Gateway program in St. Louis. The program offers the students a chance to directly interact online with international journalists who are actively covering global issues.
Three times a year, the reporters come to St. Louis to meet with students.
"We wanted to do something that would really engage students and spark in-depth discussions of critically important issues," said Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center director. "We obviously can't go to every school, but we can provide an online resource that connects students with the people who are directly covering these stories."
The essay contest was an extension of Global Gateway and asked students to compare the human rights issues women and children in developing nations face compared with problems of women and children locally. Winning entries were awarded cash prizes as well as the opportunity to make the Washington, D.C., trip.
During the trip, the students attended journalism workshops, practiced their interviewing techniques in workshops and on the street, and met with former IRS commissioner Fred Goldberg.
"Pulitzer does a good job of making global issues relevant," said Allison Reed, a Washington University student, who is a Civitas intern. "Often, we don't make those connections between local and world problems. But making those connections helps us move toward finding solutions."
Bobbi Clemons, a Civitas staffer, said going along on the trip as a chaperone reminded her that, "no matter what age, we can't ever stop paying attention."
"As we get older, it's easier to ignore what's going on outside our own little world," Clemons said. "Opportunities like this make you stop and think."
Sawyer said the next Global Gateway issue will be food and security. Planning for the next year is under way.
As students who took the Washington, D.C., trip return to classes in a few weeks, Sawyer said the hope is those students will encourage their friends and peers to take an interest in that issue and others.
"These students are our ambassadors," he said. "We hope they'll take leadership roles in their schools, use the tools they've gained to start discussions, get other people thinking. It's exciting because these kids have so much energy. Getting them involved is a big step toward getting things done."
Civitas and Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting essay contest winners:
- Niki Esser St. Joseph's Academy
- Kelsi Feltz, Lindbergh High
- Marc Fernan, St. Louis U. High
- Rosemary Howell, St. Joseph's
- Olivia Huddleston-Boatman, Metro Academy
- Haroon Ikram, Soldan International High
- Sonya McCanna, Nerinx Hall High
- Claire Meyer, Nerinx Hall
- Martha Orlet, Nerinx Hall
- Maria Sanchez, Nerinx Hall
- Gulmakai Zulmai, Soldan International
- Ruby Varghese, Hixson Middle School
- Alison Wuensch, Hixson
- Soomin Cho, John Burroughs Middle School
- Hannah Hiler, Burroughs Middle
- David Blout, St. Louis U. High