A video documentary based on a year-long EdSource project examining the often-ignored and underreported needs of rural schools in California has been recognized with a national award.
The 29-minute mini-documentary examined the education needs of students in rural school districts throughout California and the extraordinary challenges they face. It highlighted the impact of chronic absenteeism, a lack of internet service and barriers to going to college.
These barriers are similar to those in urban areas but get far less public attention. The mini-documentary, which drew on EdSource’s multimedia reporting on the topic, describes this education divide and the efforts underway to help students earn college degrees and other post-secondary credentials.
A notable feature of the project was that it called on students and teachers in rural areas to help shape the project as it was getting off the ground by sharing their experiences and ideas.
Judges praised the documentary “as doing an exemplary job of finding students, teachers and visuals to humanize these issues with depth.”
The project also recently won first place in the California News Publishers Association awards for visual journalism-news.
The mini-documentary was produced by videographer Jennifer Molina drawing on reporting by David Washburn, Carolyn Jones, Sydney Johnson and Larry Gordon. Anne Vasquez was the executive producer; Rose Ciotta, project editor and Denise Zapata, co-editor.
The full year-long project was a collaboration of many EdSource staffers including: Daniel Willis, Yuxuan Xie, Justin Allen, Andrew Reed, Lee Romney and photographer, Julie Leopo.
Leopo’s photo of a child riding on a school bus entitled, “The Long Bus Ride,” won first place in feature photography in the California News Publishers Association awards. The project won a total of six awards including video journalism-news for a segment on chronic absenteeism, interactive graphics, layout and design and public service.
The project also received support from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism and from the Education Writers Association in the form of fellowships to Washburn.
In announcing the launch of the project in January 2019, EdSource asked our readers to help us tell about the needs of students and educators in rural areas. Many reached out to help us.
“California is a big place, and we are a small newsroom,” EdSource explained. “We need eyes and ears on the ground — students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members whose real experiences can help us make a difference.”
The inspiration for the project came from examining data on chronic absenteeism and from Carl Cohn, the former Long Beach Unified superintendent who wrote a commentary for EdSource in which he described the dire needs of students in the state’s rural areas after visiting Modoc County in his position then as head of a new state agency, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence.
“Right here in our own state we have places that we need to do a better job of listening to and showing up in if we’re going to come together around the rescue of all school children,” Cohn wrote.
Cohn recently launched a podcast series titled “Schools on the Frontlines” on how school districts are coping with the pandemic, including looking at the Victor Valley Union High School District in the High Desert in Southern California.
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