I met Eric Ortiz at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Student Projects in 2010. He and his wife, Maria, were two of the most welcoming and accessible individuals at the NAHJ conference. We’ve kept in touch over the years. I’ve asked Eric for professional advice here and there, and when he asked me to take his Evrybit application for a test drive with my fifth-grade students, I felt like it was an opportunity and honor to give back.
I have to admit I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how my students would take to Evrybit. Could they grasp an important concept like collaborative news reporting? I asked my students if they thought they could handle it. They really weren’t sure until I told them that they’d be news reporters covering a school event. The questions poured in. What event? What do we need? Do we have to buy the app? As a teacher, I believe that there is no better teacher than real-world experience. The students were locked in.
It started with a Google Hangout. Eric shared his iPhone’s screen with my students. Although my students were familiar with video calls, this was a new experience for most of them. They were on a planning call. Real-world experience was in full effect. I told them prior to the call that this meeting would be important to the success of their story. That got their attention. They were excited about using the app to take pictures and video, but me being the teacher, I kept stressing that we were news reporters getting a story.
The toughest part about the project was getting the resources. My student population, although financially diverse, doesn’t have many iPhones, so I asked the fantastic Don Jeter Elementary staff if they had any spare, older model iPhones lying around. I managed to pick up three, but the real contribution came from my students’ families that were willing to share for the sake of the project. Interestingly enough, some of my students’ siblings were some of my former students, and they were more than willing to help.
We spent some time watching videos on photojournalism. This took me back to the NAHJ student projects. There was something that stuck with me from the student projects. The news is what’s happening at the moment. For one of my assignments, I was supposed to interview Colorado Rapids soccer player Pablo Mastroeni, but when we arrived, we found a young boy had beat me to the punch. We changed the story to covering the young boy getting a chance to meet one of his favorite soccer players. My message to my students for our project was to be cognizant of the situation and be ready to change their mind in an instant.
Thereafter, we saw a video on tips for photojournalism. The photography was by a Reuters photographer, and it was striking. I could tell because of the captivated look on my students’ faces. His tips resonated. My students were especially keen on being invisible and not being part of the story.
My students felt overwhelmed by the assignment, but I reassured them that this was going to be a process. I’m a big proponent of the growth mindset, so I’d tell them we’re not born reporters. We become reporters. My students gradually became comfortable with Evrybit’s user interface.
Day 100 Celebration
What was supposed to be our practice became a major project. As any teacher will tell you, keeping kids in order in the hallway is not the easiest job, but the level of my students’ engagement kept them focused. They flooded the hallways looking for bits to add to their story. It was a learning experience for me as well. Nothing engages students more than hands-on experiences.
My colleagues at DJE were more than happy to have my students, and the primary kids were even happier to have them. Some of my students said that it was nearly impossible to be invisible. I reinforced the idea that the students’ eagerness is part of the story.
My students were discouraged to find that some teachers didn’t want to be on camera. I like to let my students figure things out for themselves. I told them that there’s always an alternative. Nely, one of my students, was keen on what I was saying. Evrybit has an audio option, and she thought that maybe they’d be more open to an audio recording. Another student had a kindergartner draw the number 100 with the drawing capability. Their creative thinking impressed me.
As a teacher, it was fulfilling to see 21 students all pulling in the same direction. This is where Evrybit shines. To me, Evrybit is one timeline with different, multiple perspectives. There is nothing more important to a community than relevant information. The “100 Day” event was meant to be a practice run, but the students wanting to share their story with their parents at home opened my eyes to Evrybit’s real purpose.
Bilingual Family Night
Every year, the Alvin Independent School District holds the Bilingual Family Night (BFN) to give the Spanish-speaking community pertinent information about the district and its programs and processes. Our numbers as a “news” team for this event weren’t as strong as earlier, but that didn’t deter my team from covering it. Four of my students were able to make it to the event. Because the focus was on adults, parents and strangers, the students were shyer than earlier. Thankfully, the parents were supportive, and encouraged them. I think it could have gone smoother had I given my students assignments, but it served something of great importance.
I was at BFN as a volunteer, handing out brochures to the incoming families. I saw many of my former students. It was nice to see them older and doing well. These are families like my own. My father was a Mexican immigrant, and my mother was born in Chicago, but migrated back and forth from Mexico. I was “fortunate” enough to be born here and grew up speaking English. I feel like my parents did the best they could, but my parents weren’t versed in the intricacies of being a student in America. That’s my students now. They’re American, but they still need support like the support that Alvin ISD is providing.
Evrybit is good a way to capture stories from local individuals and share them with the community. I believe that even local news has gotten too big for the community. Most media outlets won’t cover a Houston community unless it’s a “nicer” or “bigger” community than ours. At the same time, the community has a different view of what is newsworthy. Evrybit is a good way to rally the community to cover itself. It can provide a voice for not only my students, but for everyone.
After our test drive, my students expressed their affinity for Evrybit. This is a great tool to teach nonfiction structure and elements, fact and opinion and news writing, while also keeping students engaged. I plan on applying for a grant that will give me the funds to obtain some electronic devices. Evrybit will definitely be part of my classroom in the future.
Whenever Eric posts something about Evrybit, he always mentions it as being a collaborative newsroom. I get it now. Pull every bit together to get the whole picture.