Good, raw work

Writing, coaching, and Teens in Print

A sticky summer morning in Boston. A man is robbed. Inside Conference Room A at The Boston Globe, 20 reporters see it all. They slouch in their seats. They look at the ceiling. Some cross their arms, others twirl their hair. Ah, youth.

“Get your notebooks out, get your pens!” calls Kelly Knopf-Goldner ’90. She is tall and slender, and she stands, arms folded across her chest, measuring up her students. Her no-nonsense demeanor is betrayed, though, by a slight smile.

The students know the drill: She is their writing coach, and she’s guiding them through a reporting exercise for the WriteBoston Summer Journalism Institute. One of the fruits of that labor is Teens in Print, a newspaper written by and published for teens. The students in the room shake off their I’m-too-cool-for-that expressions and embrace their assigned roles as witnesses and reporters. One brags, “We’re T.i.P.! We’re first on the scene!”

Good, raw work

newspaper_150_1Six years ago, Knopf-Goldner gathered 12 students to create T.i.P., the first independent youth newspaper in Boston. Students come from schools that don’t have their own papers; most of the schools also have high drop-out rates—for both students and teachers.

“Many of our teens are a few grades behind on their reading levels,” Knopf-Goldner says, “but they come because they love writing, and they get a lot of coaching from us. So they produce really good, raw work.”

About 20 students meet after school to produce five issues per year. For each issue, 30,000 copies are distributed to all Boston public libraries, youth-serving agencies, and local high schools. Once a year, T.i.P. is printed in the Boston Sunday Globe, whose foundation has supported T.i.P. since its inception.

The student paper is an initiative of WriteBoston, a program developed to foster writing skills in Boston teens. Ten high schools in low-income areas including Hyde Park, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Brighton participate in the program. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, since 2006 these schools have seen an improvement of 14.2 percent in advanced/proficient scores on the English Language Arts exam. That’s better than average.

Last year, WriteBoston launched two writing centers, staffed by college writing students, which serve seven local high schools. The centers push the writing-coach model to help teachers and students alike. Just a few months ago, after more than five years at the helm of T.i.P., Knopf-Goldner handed off management of the project to a colleague; she continues teaching and has gone back to graduate school to complete a master’s in writing.

It’s a special reward for any founder to see her publication go from crawling to walking to hitting its stride. But the finances of publishing being what they are, the future of T.i.P. is now uncertain. The Boston Globe Foundation closed last summer; funding for 2010–11 has yet to be found. Knopf-Goldner hopes the well-earned popularity of T.i.P. will ensure continued support from the mayor and others. If not, hundreds of Boston public high school teens will lose a major source of motivation to improve their writing—and may never learn the vital role that journalism can and should play in society.

Maggie Beidelman ’09 has recently returned to the Bay Area after working on the East Coast and in France. This is her first feature for SCM.

post-image Editorial Confab: Knopf-Goldner, left, with student journalist Daja Taylor, a sophomore at Media Communications Technology High School. Photo: Sophie Asmar '09
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