Yet in one of Oregon’s most diverse schools, in a neighborhood struggling with poverty and crime, a group of fifth-graders from Harrison Park Elementary left the confines of their classroom to fan out the area around Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street to interview, research and record. What they found went into a 26-page, trilingual single-edition newspaper they named The Jade Journal.
Each story – translated into English, Chinese and Spanish – is a small piece of something larger and remarkable: in three months, a class of 10- and 11-year-olds became active participants in their neighborhood, learning about its structure, residents and businesses, and then used that knowledge to call for change.
To its readers, The Jade Journal offers a glimpse of what it’s like growing up in a neighborhood at a crossroads between a troubled past and hopeful future.
The Jade Journal began nearly three years ago as an idea in the head of Marc Moscato, executive director of Portland non-profit Know Your City. From his small office on the second floor of Union Station, Moscato explained how the Journal fit into Know Your City’s wider agenda of using creative placemaking projects to advocate for social justice and public engagement.
“We were really inspired by the work being done in New York City by the Center for Urban Pedagogy," Moscato said. "And at the same time we were talking to Kristin Bowling from the SUN School at Harrison Park and Polo Catalani from the New Portlanders Program about doing something similar – a project that could celebrate the great diversity of the area, as well as educate the kids on issues of equity and civic involvement. All we lacked at that point was funding.”
As the project developed and gained momentum, Moscato was introduced to Harrison Park teacher Tim Schulze, who volunteered for the job of molding his class into a something of a news team while fitting the 12-week project into the normal curriculum. Travis Neel, a recent Masters of Fine Art graduate from Portland State University, was brought on to educate the children on layout and design.
“The project couldn’t have happened without the work and input of Tim and Travis,” Moscato said. “The three of us worked extremely well together. My end was mainly about arranging for the students to meet with and hopefully get inspired by people associated with the community.”
Know Your City was able to tap into its large network of local supporters and arrange for each session to host a variety of local artists, journalists, business owners and public officials to meet with train the class on topics such as photojournalism, parks, or running a business in the neighborhood. It was that kind of direct contact with the community that had the greatest effect on the students’ enthusiasm, according to Tim Schulze.
“It was a lot of work, just coordinating all the sessions and making sure it fit the expected curriculum,” Schulze recalled, a few months after the project had been completed. “But, it was worth every minute – the thing that got me the most was the engagement of the kids. They cared about it.”
The reward for their hard work and dedication was something not often given to fifth-graders: a chance to speak to the Portland City Council during a March 11 council session. Each of the 26 students in the class wrote a short speech based on their articles, with six being chosen to read theirs in front of the council.
The students spoke to the council in the straightforward manner so characteristic of children of that age. They talked about the lack of adequate parks in their neighborhood, about walking to school and not feeling safe because of criminal activity and the lack of sidewalks.
“We need more traffic lights and crosswalks because people are getting hit by cars,” said Joe Chan. “They need to be longer because some people are old and they can’t walk that fast.”
My Place Profile: Jade Journal Reporters
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“I’m here to speak up about healthy food in my neighborhood,” said Samantha Martinez-Mendoza. “I live next to a 7-Eleven, and I sometimes wonder, ‘Why don’t I live next to a healthy grocery store?’ When we are almost out of fruits and vegetables, my mom has to drive far away to get them.”
After rounds of applause, congratulations and thanks from Mayor Charlie Hales for their presentations, the project concluded and the young journalists went back to being students. But organizers hope the experience from the project will stay with them throughout the rest of their school years, as along with one more token: each of the 26 children received a personal letter from Commissioner Amanda Fritz, thanking them for their work, and addressing each of their chosen topics.
“The kids get it. They see their park doesn’t have any benches, and there’s a park on the west side that’s getting all this money for renovation,” Moscato said a few months after the council session. “So, it was cool to do a newspaper in a neighborhood with a group of people who don’t really have a voice. It was a great, empowering experience for the students. To then have them produce something that further educated the community was such a valuable thing.”
Know Your City hopes to publish another issue of the journal next year, and is also exploring a similar project at David Douglas High School. Making that possible, however, will require future support from the community and grants from local public agencies or foundations, Moscato said.
“The neighborhood around here gets challenging,” Tim Schulze said one afternoon in his classroom while the shouts of students on their way home echoed from the halls.
“There’s a lot of tough people, tough situations around here, but there’s also a lot of amazing things happening. But when you’re a kid you don’t have a choice – this is where you are from, this is what you get used to seeing. So when I see these kids show up to class every day, doing their work, cooperating on projects like this, I have nothing but the highest respect for them.”
In focus: 82nd and Division
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