Yale-bound NECIR Alum wins Scholastic Press Award

A budding investigative reporter, Robert S. honed his skills on our High School Summer Journalism Workshop last summer. When he returned to Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, MA, for his senior year, Robert had the know-how and the confidence to investigate the world around him. Building on an idea that he conceived of during his time with NECIR, Robert reported on the policies and practices surrounding mandatory iPad use for testing at his school, finding inconsistencies and a lack of clear policy regarding the new technology. His work, which appeared in his school newspaper the Warrior Word, earned him a Special Achievement Award from the New England Scholastic Press Association. The Warrior Word won the Highest Achievement Award. Robert will be headed to Yale University in the fall, where he hopes to write for the Yale Daily News — the oldest college daily in the country. Join us in congratulating Robert, read his story here, and check out our Q and A below — including advice for future NECIR students.

NECIR: Can you tell us about your recent story on iPads for your school newspaper? How did you come up with the idea? What excited you about it?

My story was about the way in which my school implemented mandatory iPads into testing. At the time, my school, which had first implemented iPads the year before, had no guidelines as to how the devices should be used for test-taking. Some teachers didn’t allow students to use the devices at all, while others barely monitored student use during tests. I actually came up with the idea while at the NECIR summer workshop, where Helen Smith had us write a 300-500 word editorial under a strict time limit. She told us to think of something we had questions about in our own school or life, which prompted me to realize my school’s lack of iPad testing guidelines. Once I got back to school, I started seriously considering writing a story about it. The piece excited me because it allowed me to explore an issue that affected all of my fellow classmates.

Robert, bottom left, with fellow journalists at Boston University.

Robert, top left, with fellow journalists at Boston University.

NECIR: How did you go about conducting research and finding sources for the story?

Fortunately, I had it easy when it came to researching the story. One of my teachers had been the first to allow students to use their iPads during midterm exams, and so I had full access to his viewpoint and teaching techniques. From there, I interviewed one of his students, a senior who saw both sides of the issue; he knew that iPad use could increase cheating on tests, but also understood that this technology was the way of the future. After speaking to the two of them, who both generally supported iPad testing, I consulted the other side of the story by interviewing a teacher with no plans to implement iPad testing anytime soon. I rounded out my research by interviewing the principal—the one with the power to make and enforce policy changes.

NECIR: Did anything surprise you about what you learned?

I was extremely surprised that there weren’t any written guidelines in place for how to implement iPad testing. There was, of course, an unwritten rule that students shouldn’t just be able to look up all their answers, but teachers were given a surprising amount of leeway when it came to designing tests, monitoring students, and discouraging cheating. It seemed like a basic written rule to have.

NECIR: What techniques or skills did you use for this piece that you can trace back to your summer experience with NECIR’s high school journalism workshop?

I think what I utilized most was the ability to confidently ask people for interviews and information. It can be difficult to approach teachers or administrators that you barely know and to ask them hard questions about academic policy and teaching techniques. NECIR gave me the confidence to do so by teaching me the basics of investigative journalism, by allowing me to speak with prominent journalists, and by giving me the opportunity to meet and bond with other journalism students from around the world.

Robert, center, at Boston University.

Rober, second from left, with fellow NECIR friends at Boston University.

NECIR: How would you describe your time at Boston University on our investigative workshop?

My time at BU was amazing. Not only did I learn a lot about investigative journalism and the industry as a whole, but I also created solid friendships with other future journalists. Everybody there was extremely passionate about journalism, from the Wall Street Journal reporter who told us stories about going undercover for a story, to the student I sat next to who’d written an article for his local paper at 10 years old, to the 13-year-old from Hong Kong who researched drug use on college campuses during his time at the program. Mornings spent with experienced reporters and teachers like Joe Bergantino and Helen Smith flowed smoothly into evenings spent in Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall, and Newbury Street. The workshop was the highlight of my summer due to the friends and mentors I met there. Living on a college campus with the other students was also an extremely valuable way to prepare for the college

NECIR: What are you up to now? What’s next for you as a young journalist?

I’ve just graduated from Coyle and Cassidy High School in Massachusetts. I’ll be attending Yale University next fall, and even though I haven’t decided on a major, I plan to pursue journalism in any way I can. Yale has a variety of student publications, including the Yale Daily News, the nation’s oldest college daily. Working on any one of these publications would be an amazing way to grow as a reporter, further developing the skills I honed at the NECIR workshop.

NECIR: What sort of advice do you have for those considering the training program, or for those preparing for the program?

For anyone who isn’t sure about attending the program: go for it! I was initially nervous about leaving my family for an extended period of time to live on my own, but you aren’t alone while you’re at BU. Everyone, from your BU student supervisor to the teachers and students in the program, is there to welcome you and make you feel at home. By the second week of the program, I never wanted it to end—I had a core group of friends with whom I could research, talk, and hang out. The training program is as much about learning how to live as an independent person as it is about journalism, and the workshop exceeds at teaching both. If you’re already planning on attending the program, I’m so happy for you. It’s an eyeopening experience, full of insightful instructors and eager students. You’ll leave it a better journalist and a better person. Be ready to question your assumptions about what news is and how to gather it, and don’t forget that you can learn just as much from your classmates as you can from the instructors. I made friends from all over the world; you can too. Good luck!

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