Final Preparations Under way for This Week’s Birmingham-area Writing Academy Visit

Getting ready to visit with students in the Woodlawn Summer Academy at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School.

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Doing summer programs for high school students to get them excited about journalism has become a norm for me.

After all, I attribute my initial decision to go into journalism to  a similar summer workshop experience almost 25 years back in Richmond, Va. on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

(In fact, someone from the Urban Journalism Workshop was kind enough to remind me about that by posting our workshop photo on Facebook recently)

We do two such events here on the University of Alabama each year– the Alabama Scholastic Press Association Long Weekend and the Multicultural Journalism Workshop.   Both are established programs, the latter of which has won two national awards.

Back in the mid 1980s as a rising 11th grader, I participated in the Urban Journalism Workshop, which was sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund.

This week I’m excited to try a new model — where I’ll be going TO the students’ community instead of the students coming to us on a college campus.

The place I’ll be going– Birmingham, Ala. in a community known as Woodlawn.

What will be different this week is that we are working with younger students (rising 9th graders) in the place where they are attending school–Woodlawn High School, on the east side of Alabama’s largest city.

The Woodlawn Summer Academy focuses on creative writing, digital literacy and community engagement.  All the students who complete the academy will get a netbook to have as they start their high school careers.

The academy is a one of probably too few bright spots in the news for a school that often makes the headlines for the not-so-good things that are happening there.

Despite its history in educating thousands in East Birmingham,  Woodlawn went on lockdown,  a student was shot and another student charged with carrying an unloaded gun— all during the last school year.

With a reported 43 percent poverty rate, the Woodlawn community was described in one published report earlier this year as a place where there was a “need to restore dignity and bring hope”

Certainly, one or two visits for a writing academy can’t deliver dignity and hope at once.

But, an encounter with students like those in the Writing Academy at Woodlawn High School can make a difference, not only for the students but also the visitor who can learn just as much from the experience.

I’ve already met and worked with two of the students in the academy as most of them made the trip from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa last month for the ASPA Long Weekend.  Over the course of two days, the students got a healthy dose of instruction in writing, editing, photojournalism and yes (my area) video.

Like most of the students, Drec Magwood and Nicholas Collins, were really quiet at the beginning of the weekend.  But, by the end of the second day, I could see the personalities coming out.

These guys did a great job reporting their stories on a television set in front of the lights and cameras at WVUA-TV here on the University of Alabama campus.

At last month's workshop at University of Alabama, Nicholas Collins listened intently as WVUA-TV's Daniel Sparkman explained how to do on-camera standups.

Armed with the experience from the video track of the Long Weekend,  Magwood and  Collins will be the leaders as we help the other students learn how to tell stories like those in Woodlawn using moving images.

My thanks to University of Alabama Professor Chip Brantley for inviting me and some of my UA journalism students to participate in the academy.

It should be a great week.    I’ll be writing updates about my experience “Working with Woodlawn” for the next few days.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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