Rick Rodriguez, former ASNE president and former top editor at the Sacramento Bee, reminded me today of the potential that we as journalism advisers have to make a lasting impact in our students’ lives, especially those students who may at first seem to be unlikely journalists.
As Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Rodriguez spoke about his humble roots. Growing up in Salinas, Calif., education was not an important focus in his family. He described one of his proudest childhood moments as the time he taught his illiterate grandmother, Felicitas Rodriguez, how to write her name. “It’s not a natural progression for me to go into the newspaper,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez credits his journalism adviser Art Gallegos with encouraging him to pursue journalism and stick with it. Though Rodriguez got off to a rocky start when he published his own picture in the sports section of the newspaper, Gallegos helped him learn from his mistakes and take his reporting more seriously.
“Journalism opened up the world to me,” Rodriguez said. During his first job working for a local newspaper in Salinas, Rodriguez covered Cesar Chavez. “How privileged I was to grow up and cover this story,” he said “I had my ups and downs with Cesar Chavez over the years. I admired what he did, but I also was a journalist first.”
Rodriguez stayed in the profession because he saw how his reporting could impact others. “I thought journalism was a way of educating people so that fear could be overcome,” he said. “For me it’s always about building a community. It takes a lot of work to build trust.”
Rodriguez reminded me that students need to be encouraged to step outside their world and explore the diversity around them. For us as advisers, that begins with mentoring students with diverse backgrounds or ways of thinking.
Rodriguez shared that students need to feel like they’re growing through this process. For his student Megan, being challenged to engage in participatory journalism and learn what it was like to pick up garbage changed her world. “I reached in out of my comfort zone because I saw potential in her,” Rodriguez said. That investment paid off in her growing passion to cover more similar stories.
So often as a teacher, I’m faced with students in my classes who are reluctant or unmotivated learners and too often, for a number of reasons, I don’t always invest the time in them that I should. Today I recommit myself to mentoring them.
Rodriguez reminded me that it’s up to me to take the initiative, step into their world, discover what’s holding them back, capitalize on their talents, then challenge them to step outside their comfort zone and take risks to cover diverse perspectives. A few years ago, my Editor-in-Chief coined this catchphrase for our vision – “Think outside the box.” As a staff, we need to get back to that. Because you never know - that reluctant student sitting in your classroom could impact your community in ways you never dreamed or imagined. Look no further than Rodriguez for proof of that.
Woodcreek High School