Applying for Chalkbeat’s 2020 paid summer internship? Start by catching up on our 2019 interns’ great work (and advice)

When we introduced our interns to our readers back in April, we were optimistic about what would happen over the summer. But the seven up-and-coming reporters who joined our newsroom exceeded all of our expectations.

For 10 weeks, our interns nabbed scoops, brought issues to life, engaged with readers, and just plain made our newsrooms more fun.

Now, we want to share some highlights of their work — and some of the lessons they learned, including advice they’d give to future Chalkbeat interns.

The future is now: We’ve just opened applications for our 2020 internship program. We’re looking for student journalists who are talented, enterprising, and curious about education equity issues to join our local teams for 10 weeks of paid reporting experience.

Find more details and apply hereFor now, here’s a recap of 2019, in our interns’ own words.

Camille Respess, National

A memorable story: I had the opportunity to build a cheat sheet for the 2020 presidential election, which includes highlights of what every Democratic candidate has said about education. Building this kind of resource was unlike anything I had done prior to my time at Chalkbeat and gave me the opportunity to grow in my understanding of government and politics as it relates to education.

A favorite moment: My editor entrusted me with covering an event the Gates Foundation hosted outside of Washington, D.C. I was working out of Chalkbeat’s New York office for the summer, so this event allowed me to go on my first solo work trip. I was fortunate to receive this opportunity, especially as an intern.

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: Take it all in and absorb what you’re learning like a sponge. The people who work at Chalkbeat have a level of expertise and understanding of education that is unlike anything I had ever seen before my summer in New York. Interns should certainly tap into that wealth of knowledge.

Caity Henderson, Chicago

A memorable story: I loved reporting and writing about Principal Elizabeth Meyers’ summer initiative. I got the chance to interview teachers, administrators and students as I shadowed Meyers for a morning. As I was writing the piece, my editors at Chalkbeat pushed me to connect what I had seen and heard to a larger story about principal retention and summer programming. Chalkbeat taught me to find the context for my stories beyond my interviews and sources. And I’d never pass up a chance to get into a school, especially in the summer.

A favorite moment: There was one day I spent reporting all over the city, first in Englewood in the morning, then in Hermosa on the West Side, and then I ended up in Ford City, right on the edge of the suburbs. I had never been to the southwest corner of the city before, and honestly I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I remember sitting at the bus stop and thinking how lucky I was to see new sides of Chicago every day at Chalkbeat. I’m in love with Chicago and I learned so much more about the city this summer.

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: Jump right in! There were some days when I felt overwhelmed by assignments and missed important details or lines of questioning.  The more I set aside my exhaustion, stress or insecurity, the more I got out of my assignments. There’s so much to learn at Chalkbeat, and people are always there to support you.

Kati Weis, Colorado

A memorable story: I looked at a new air quality monitoring program going up in select Denver public schools. I had a chance to crunch state air quality data, which showed troubling air quality levels in the Denver metro over recent years. It was rewarding to inform readers about the ins and outs of this critical issue and delve further into why such a program could be useful to schools.

A favorite moment: Next to having a chance to report in the beautiful city of Denver — getting married! My husband and I had a lovely mountain wedding, and I’m proud to remain here as a resident of Colorado, now as an investigative reporter for CBS Denver.

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: Be persistent, be flexible, and take every assignment with stride. Every assignment will help you develop new sources and new understanding of important community issues. No matter how big or small the story may seem, embrace it and go for it full speed.

Imani Harris, Detroit

A memorable story: I appreciated covering how school leaders were working to find and retain teachers because it really got me out of my own mindset, out of my own misconceived notions and things I thought I understood, and into the heads of school leaders who are really battling with how to properly staff their schools in a timely manner.

A favorite moment: Definitely the student story slam! My hopes from journalism are, like most, ambitious in that I really want to make an impact on the communities I’m serving. That event, with everything from giving students the confidence to believe in the power of their own stories to seeing how the audience responded to the raw truths they heard, was truly one of the most empowering and inspiring moments of the summer. It was amazing.

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: I would encourage the interns to be more comfortable asking “stupid questions,” to avoid mistakes and confusion in the future.

Kathryn Palmer, Tennessee

A memorable story: I wrote about an out-of-work veteran teacher who couldn’t find a job that worked for her. I had been assigned to cover a teacher recruitment fair, which at first sounded like it would be pretty standard, maybe even boring. But when I showed up, school district officials didn’t seem to want me there, so I had to figure out how to get my story anyway. I waited outside the building looking for someone who would be willing to let me follow them around and write about the job fair from their perspective. I met Sandra Jenkins, who’d taught for 30-plus years before she got into a car accident. She’d been looking for job for almost a year with no luck and she was really open with me about her struggles. The story was not what I had envisioned, but it got a great reaction from the community and several people responded with offers to help her find work. It taught me about the power of narrative writing and being able to adapt my reporting to the situation around me.

A favorite moment: My favorite memory would have to be living in Memphis. Everyone I met, especially my Chalkbeat coworkers, was warm and friendly and there were so many new and culturally significant places in and around the area to explore. It was a great summer!

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: Do not be afraid to ask for help or advice. You only have 10 weeks to learn a whole new school system and city — and hopefully write some memorable stories about it all. Make the most of the resources around you.

Zipporah Osei, New York

A memorable story: My favorite story was the summer meals story because it was the first feature story I did for Chalkbeat. I’m especially proud of it because the original idea was to just write about the start of the program, but through my reporting I was able to turn it into a great accountability story. After it was published, the education department fixed the technology issues I’d discovered and outlined in the article.

A favorite moment: My favorite memory was visiting Mott Hall Bridges Academy to speak to staff and former students about how the school supports its grieving students. The conversations I had with the students were really inspiring and helped me create a portrait of the school that I believe did it justice.

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: Be proactive in finding stories that get them out of the office. Everyone at Chalkbeat is really supportive of going the extra mile for a story and I found that my best reporting came when I took the initiative to do on the ground reporting.

Erica Irish, Indiana

A memorable story: The story that challenged me the most as an education reporter was the narrative piece I wrote about Charie Gibson,  a liaison for students facing homelessness and the foster care system in Indiana’s largest school district, Indianapolis Public Schools. By building a relationship with Charie and the IPS team over time, I gained access to her work and had an opportunity to shadow her as she helped families manage the weight of what would feel like an insurmountable challenge to many of us.

A favorite moment: I really enjoyed visiting Austin, Indiana, while reporting for my last story about social-emotional wellness and professional development initiatives geared towards attending high school at the heart of a county known for a widespread HIV epidemic. I’ve rarely visited small, rural towns in the past, and doing so for this assignment made me learn about life experiences profoundly different from my own. On a lighter note, at the office, I really enjoyed the Friday Nicey Treats our bureau chief, Stephanie, would always call for after a tough week (or just a hot day).

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: You’ve probably heard this before, but don’t be afraid to dive into the stories that compel you the most. Your Chalkbeat editors and colleagues want to equip you with the tools you need to craft your own pitches and hone your craft. Never step away from a story that’s interesting to you just because of your intern status.