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Future reporters, today

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Not every middle school student is comfortable in front of a camera. Layliana Smith, though, is at home on every side of one.

“I like being on camera, and I like being behind a camera, and recording things in general,” said the eighth-grader, one of the student hosts on Hedrick Middle School’s morning news show.

Smith and a classroom full of students are destined to see a lot more time behind the lens, out of their classrooms and at computers storyboarding and editing footage. That’s because they’re participating in the first Public Broadcasting Service Student Reporting Lab at Hedrick.

The program, affiliated with PBS NewsHour, is expanding its Medford reach as a collaborative educational effort between the school district and Southern Oregon Public Television.

“It’s exciting, but it’s scary all at the same time,” said Ben Garcia, education coordinator for SOPTV.

In April, Garcia applied for a chance to launch the student reporting labs here. Now, he has his sights set on building upon the foundation of the labs to create a media arts pathway in the Medford School District. Garcia sees it as a way to add to the growing number of career and technical education options in Medford, helping students parlay their real-world experience into employment.

“These labs are a piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Beyond the hands-on skills, another goal of the student reporting labs is to foster a sense of engagement with public media. Data from PBS shows that six alumni of the reporting labs are or have been employed by member stations, and 16 alumni have gone on to intern with local stations.

“I’m really excited,” Smith said. “I feel like we can do a story on anything, because it’s possible. And we can do it.”

Labs are running at Central Medford and North Medford high schools, as well as at Hedrick this year. Students will start out by learning the basic functions of cameras, as well as interview and storytelling skills.

They’ll have in-class assignments on those topics, but will eventually move on to more advanced storytelling out in the community.

In their first two weeks, the students have talked about what kinds of stories they’d like to cover. They’re not shying away from tough, complicated issues: one whiteboard at Hedrick filled with sticky-note ideas included topics ranging from school shootings to climate change, immigration to pollution.

“It was not a surprise to find out that they’re concerned about all these big issues that we’re concerned about,” Garcia said. “But they have yet to turn their internal mental lens onto media and what is media, and how is it undertaken and why is it important?”

Garcia’s grant-funded work in the Medford School District began last year, with former teacher Mike Mayben in his video classes at North Medford High School. He also led computer coding programs with Talented and Gifted student programs in elementary and middle schools.

The trainings that PBS provides to instructors and students is only part of the benefit from being plugged into the public media network. It also helps boost students’ potential audience to well beyond school walls.

You might see student-produced work on SOPTV channels in the future, and if a student story thoroughly impresses the PBS NewsHour team, it could get national exposure with a feature on the nightly news broadcast.

“That’s exciting, and that’s huge,” Garcia said.

To build up the program into a full-fledged CTE Pathway, however, Garcia needed a team. He’ll need to be CTE certified, and he’s working with an advisory council. That council includes Medford School District’s Communication Specialist Natalie Hurd, who serves as an industry advisor because of her background in TV news.

“There are viable, meaningful careers in electronic media, and I’m hopeful we can provide opportunities for students in those fields,” she said in a text message Tuesday.

Garcia and his team are also working with a graduate student at Southern Oregon University to create curriculum for future video classes.

Another requirement to create a fully fledged CTE Pathway is an established partnership with a higher education institution; students must be able to earn college-level credit in their Pathway by the time they graduate high school. Garcia is in talks with SOU about filling that role for the media arts Pathway.

Even if students like Smith aren’t committed fully yet to pursuing careers in news, Garcia said, he wants them to know that media skills, from graphic design to video storytelling, are valuable for many careers they might pursue.

“I think that there is perhaps a little bit of misinformation that’s happening, which tells students that there are not jobs in the media arts world here in Southern Oregon,” he said.

Beyond that, Garcia said, “whether they become real journalists or not, this is going to help them become more ingrained in the democracy that they live in.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

A board of story ideas from students at Hedrick Middle School. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Eighth-grade students Layliana Smith, Acacia Franklin and Maya McLaren get ready for the morning show Friday at Hedrick Middle School. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune