By Allison Leon

In journalism, interviews are a major part of the job. Those questions and conversations help the reporter gain a sense of who a person is and what experiences will catch the reader’s eye. That ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds is the framework by which the Summer Institute for Educators (SIE) helps teachers bring current events to the classroom.

Educators participate in a brainstorming activity on the incorporation of global content in the classroom.

“One of the best things about this workshop is that we bring together educators from many backgrounds who have one major thing in common: their desire to learn more about global issues,” said Natalie Arsenault, associate director for the Center for Latin American Studies.

SIE is organized in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and co-sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Center for East Asian Studies, Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, Center for Latin American Studies, and Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The institute brings together Pulitzer-funded journalists and educators from primary grades through community college to provide tools that bring global news to the classroom.

The international area studies centers at the University of Chicago receive funding from the Title VI program of the U.S. Department of Education, which has allowed them to host a series of teacher workshops focused on global themes, said Arsenault. The centers have been partnering together to do so for twenty years. In 2015, the international area studies centers began working with the Pulitzer’s Campus Consortium program to bring journalists to present on the City Colleges of Chicago’s seven campuses. The events were well-received, and subsequently grew into a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center, bringing in journalists and providing useable classroom activities to educators.

This year’s session was held June 25 and June 26.

June 25

Photojournalist Natalie Keyssar presents on political activism and youth unrest in Venezuela.

The workshop’s first day focused primarily on presentations by several journalists, including Natalie Keyssar. Keyssar is a photojournalist focused on Latin America and the U.S. Her presentation explored her long term project: The Office of Hope in Venezuela, which follows the political unrest and youth uprising Venezuela has faced in recent years. At the beginning of her work, Keyssar realized that her photography actually limited the shared story of Venezuelans. According to Keyssar, shooting only protests, for example, did not create an accurate image of the Venezuelan experience, and so she made it her goal to create a more comprehensive picture of Venezuela by photographing everything from people in their homes to the landscape.

"Making these images in a way that makes it real and accessible is really important to education," said Keyssar.

She found that students would be engaged when they saw images to which they could relate. Seeing things like kids hanging out in Venezuela allowed them to connect and better understand the context they live in. Keyssar hopes that students come away from her work with an interest in global events, and an appetite for journalism.

Filmmaker and photojournalist Max Duncan introduces his film, “Down from the Mountains.”

Nahal Toosi followed with a presentation of her work on the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. Toosi calls the project an education for her, opening her eyes to the complex histories of Asia. She researched the genocide in Rohingya through the lens of the politics of the issue.

“In a way I was writing two stories. One was about what had happened to the Rohingya, and the other was about the politics in Washington D.C., and how this issue had been missed as the United States has engaged with Burma.”

To her, the issue first seemed black and white, but as she began further research, she encountered a complicated history tied to this issue going back centuries.

“It was one of those stories that shattered a lot of stereotypes for me. I hope that when you talk to your students and bring projects in front of them, use examples that are not necessarily black and white and go against the stereotypes in their mind,” said Toosi.

Toosi asked the teachers to challenge the students to come up with solutions to issues. She reflected upon her own schooldays throughout the talk, wishing that her teachers had taught her more current events as a real-world application to everything they were being taught, and asked the teachers present to include this in their lessons.

Following other presentations and activities, the day ended with a reflection and short survey on the events of the day, with teachers highlighting how “the importance of news sources as a means to involve students in current events and to increase critical thinking” would stay with them even after the institute.

June 26

The second day began with presentations from Max Duncan, a freelance video journalist who has spent much of his career covering Asia. His work encompasses a variety of topics by examining China’s economic boom and its impact. He presented his film, Down from the Mountain, which covers how children from rural China are left behind as their parents move to larger, urban areas to find work. He hopes his film moves students to be aware of what they consume, not only in media, but in using everyday items like headphones, thinking of how they are made and how they can impact families like the one in Down from the Mountain.

“If American high school kids can associate and relate to them despite cultural and geographical differences that would make me happy. Any questions that encourages that thoughtfulness more would work,” said Duncan.

Later in the day, educators were given an opportunity to put what they heard into practice. To start, Fareed Mostoufi, senior education manager for the Pulitzer center, showed examples of the ways the stories that have been presented have been applied in the classroom, including an exercise called Fighting Words, in which students take stories from Pulitzer journalists and use them to write poetry. The participants were then given an image and a story, and asked to develop a poem by incorporating lines from the story. Everyone grew silent, concentrating on their work. They then shared a few lines from their poems. One participant created a short haiku based on one of the stories that was passed out. His haiku read:

I to wish to fly

And be who I want to be 

Landing where I please

The exercise illustrated how journalism can come in many forms, and how poetry can be considered a form of history and lead to a deeper understanding of current events through art.

Fareed Mostoufi and Hannah Berk from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting lead a discussion session.

Following the poetry exercise, Mostoufi gave an overview of different lesson plans that have been created based on other Pulitzer-supported journalists’ work. The Pulitzer Center helps connects journalists with classrooms either in-person or video calls, allowing students to delve in deeper into their topics. One example is a project based on Paul Salopek’s walk around the world recreating the path humans took while migrating across the planet. In line that concept, students walk around their neighborhoods, asking people questions to learn more about the community, as journalists would. These projects have resulted in several video series from different parts of the country, including Chicago.

For the final activity, Duncan led a practice interview with an art teacher from the South Side of Chicago. “I could use my teacher voice,” the teacher said, her voice instantly booming throughout the lecture room in Saieh Hall. He asked her a series of questions, each building off the other, delving deeper into the teacher’s family background and revealing a story of a strong matriarchal lineage that inspires her to this day. The capstone exercise is a lesson inspired by Daniella Zalcmans’ work, another Pulitzer-funded journalist .  She created portraits of indigenous Canadians and Americans who were taken from their families and forced to attend boarding schools that stripped them of their cultures. Such interactions and intersections between journalism and educators were an integral part of this two-day professional development program.

Then the challenge was turned to the rest of the educators attending: interview another person in the room to gain a sense of their identity, and then form a portrait. In the same way Zalcman interviewed survivors to gain a better understanding of their backgrounds as Native American and survivors of residential schools to create portraits of them, participants found a partner, interviewed them, and then used an app to create a portrait that they believe represents their story. The participants spent some time discussing with their partners, and some shared the results. By the end of the day, the participants were excited to take the materials they had seen and implement them in their classrooms.

Participants interview each other during an activity on bringing reporting skills into the classroom.

“It was so inspiring to be surrounded by people who feel similar about the importance and necessity of globalizing their classroom.” said one participant.

Throughout the presentations, participants were completely engaged. Teachers from various subjects all had their eyes to the front, leaning in as the journalists shared their experiences working around the world.

“We’re pleased that the Summer Institute for Educators draws such an interdisciplinary and diverse set of educators. This year we ran the gamut from elementary school art teachers to high school social studies teachers to biology and English faculty at local community colleges” said Arsenault. “They were engaged by the variety of topics covered by the journalists, as well as their personal stories about their experiences in the field. From our perspective at the area studies centers, our partnership with the Pulitzer Center has allowed us to improve the quality of our teacher training activities. The SIE allows us to provide teachers with rich and timely content, combined with great tools to integrate it in the classroom, in a way that energizes them as they plan for a new school year. We couldn’t be happier with the outcomes.”