Journalism is like crystal meth: If you want repeat customers, hook ’em young. That’s happening right now in Vero Beach, Florida.
A retiree named Thomas Hardy runs an after-school program called the Glendale Young Authors’ Club. Hardy launched it with a half-dozen fourth- and fifth-graders and the enthusiastic support of the principal at Glendale Elementary School.
Weirdly and nobly, Hardy isn’t a journalist. He owned a software company before retiring to sleepy Vero Beach (population: 20,000). This Atlantic coastal town is 90 minutes north of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago and two hours south of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
When the local newspaper shriveled up and died, Hardy launched his own novice effort, called Vero Communique. But he knew enough to join SPJ and write on the about page, “We endorse the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists” and link to it. (Personal aside: I wish some pro news outlets cared as much about the code as Hardy does.)
Hardy didn’t stop there, concluding the best way to keep journalism from perishing is to teach young people why it’s so damned important. When he launched the after-school program, he contacted SPJ looking for help.Michael Koretzky
SPJ Florida paid for a visit from Wesley Wright, a former higher-ed reporter for the Virginia Gazette who later covered education for Chalkbeat in Denver before heading back to college, where he’s pursuing a master’s in education policy – because he wants to change education in this country, not just cover it.
Below is Wright’s report. My personal hope is that SPJ can help Hardy and Wright duplicate this program elsewhere. If you’re similarly interested, email me.
Publish or perish
Media literacy has become as important as ever in the digital age, where so many companies and interests are competing for consumers’ eyes.
One Vero Beach man is using his own money (along with $700 in donations) to give elementary schoolers in Indian River a head start on how to become informed about issues they see in the world and in their community.
Thomas Hardy has spent four hours each week in helping preside over the Glendale Youth Authors’ Magazine. Since October, Hardy has walked the children through everything from reputed reporters of yesteryear to the way in which reporters approach an interview.
“What I’m concerned with is helping the kids learn how to be informed and inquisitive,” Hardy said. “It’s this day and time, learning how to be research subjects on your own is especially key, and it is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.”Thomas Hardy
County school board member Tiffany Justice was one of several who hope Hardy give the basic tenets of his program over to a larger organization, like the Boys and Girls Club or Gifford Youth Action Center.
Many more students may be interested in a program like this, she said, but lack of transportation to Glendale or Internet access at home could mean some students forego the opportunity. Photo: School District of Indian River, Florida, school board member Tiffany Justice.
“What you’re looking for is an organization that has more resources,” she said. “Not only would you not have to do all the work, you’d also be opening this type of program up to children who otherwise might not access to it.”
Fourth-grade math and science teacher Zac Trahan allows Hardy to use his classroom for the purposes of the magazine.
“It has helped their writing for sure,” he said.
“What it really has done is compel them to take the rest of their subjects that much more seriously, and it has made them curious.”Zac Trahan, 4th & 5th grade math and science teacher
“We enjoy it, ” said Emma Cahill, who has been in the program since it began. (That’s her sitting at the computer in the photo atop this article.) Their next issue, she said, will be centered around the reasons that local beaches closed during to the rampant growth of red tide recently.
Justice, the school board member, applauded Hardy for his initiative in starting the program, which she called astute way of getting children to think critically about the world as their place in it.
Two of the six students currently involved in the program enter sixth grade next year. Hardy hopes he can drum up enough interest in the program to keep it afloat for years to come.
“There is a wealth of retired reporters here and others who would love to help you.”Tiffany Justice