Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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Santa Ana’s local public school district is offering kids a chance to engage with civics in ways that make you feel good about the future.

This past summer, a group of teachers at Lowell Elementary School reached out to Voice of OC as part of their summer enrichment program, where kids get to attend a summer session at the school.

Jessica Rodriquez, Olga Valle and Josephine Dong worked with us to design a civic reporting boot camp for the kids at Lowell Elementary.

SAUSD Teachers Jessica Rodriguez, Josephine Dong and Olga Valle

Tonight, at Santa Ana High School, they’ll be part of the Summer Enrichment Showcase at the school, telling others about their summer workshop experience.

We trained nearly 30 kids on the basics of reporting, finding your voice as a writer and connecting with your community.

“For me, the summer program was a way to engage our kids with their community through writing,” said local teacher Jessica Rodriquez, who led the effort and is now at Santiago Elementary School.

Voc Reporting Boot Camp Student Interviews

As part of their summer reporting workshop, they interviewed newsmakers and officials, like their local Congressman Lou Correa and even visited the Los Angeles Times in downtown Los Angeles – one of the last groups of visitors to see the historic building while the newsroom was still in it.

Most importantly, we introduced them all to a reporters’ best friend.

A notebook.

And over the course of the summer, they filled those notebooks up.

We all encouraged them to write about whatever struck their mind. We talked about the power of writing to change and impact the world around you. We trained on how to write good ledes, story organization — even how to take compelling photos for a narrative.

Voc Photographer Julie Leopo talks to students

And as the nation’s immigration debate went red hot this summer over the fate of unaccompanied minors at the border, these students jumped right in – adding their own voice by producing their own podcast, which was published on the Voice of OC podcast channel.

Voc Podcasting Producer Susan Valot talks to students about audio

“I think the students were surprised that they had so much to say and write about,” said Rodriguez. “They also understood that their voice matters. I think some of them even overcame their fear of writing too!”

Indeed, the students really engaged each week and grew remarkably over the course of the summer as writers. You could see them increasingly grasping the power of reporting and writing to tell their own stories.

“It was a truly amazing thing to see such gears turning,” said Josephine Dong, who is now at John Muir Fundamental Elementary. “We saw that in order to write, you have to first learn to ask questions…that prepared them to engage.

Whether it was through interactions with other people, interaction with a place or community, their curious minds grew wilder and wilder. And soon their voices followed.”

The kids kept their notebooks.

And we’ve encouraged them to keep filling them.

It’s our hope to continue publishing their work in our Youth Media section and we’re also excited about the potential of working with other teachers on this kind of workshop at other schools throughout Orange County this coming summer break if there’s interest.

Working with these amazing students and their teachers also taught me a lot.

Questions trigger engagement.

Engagement fuels change.

Change keeps democracy alive.

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