What we’re doing to listen more closely and feature new voices

For the last few weeks, we’ve been previewing changes you can expect when we transition to Chalkbeat Colorado early next year. Here’s the latest: more chances for you to get involved in telling the story of Colorado’s public schools.

We’ve always invited readers to comment on our stories and contribute to our Voices section. But we think it takes more than that for our coverage to reach new readers and reflect diverse experiences with the school system.

My job as community editor, a new position we designed with these goals in mind, is to create new opportunities for you to interact with reporters, share your experiences, and deepen our coverage of public schools. I’ve been here since August as an Americorps VISTA (and City Year alumna), and the job is a great fit for me because it builds on work I have done in past organizations to engage people whose voices and experiences are too often ignored.

Here are four ways we’re working to get involved:

Talk to us

Chalkbeat Conversations are open-ended conversations between Chalkbeat reporters and community members, hosted by organizations in diverse neighborhoods throughout the state. Instead of setting the agenda by interviewing participants about stories we already plan to write, we start out each meeting by asking questions open-ended questions such as, “what most excites and frustrates you about the schools in your neighborhood?”

Our first Chalkbeat conversation took place in Together Colorado’s parent-mentor meeting. With the help of Together Colorado’s interpreter, Maura and I circumvented the language barrier and heard what participants would like to see happen to improve public schools in Colorado. I attend each meeting, along with at least one other editor or reporter. If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a Conversation with parents or teachers, please get in touch!

We also run events where we deliver content to readers live. Last month, for example, we partnered with the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs, CASE, and DFER, putting together a panel of education experts to discuss the landscape of education finance, post Amendment 66’s recent defeat. We’re working on coming up with more creative ways to share the stories we cover with new audiences and help our readers use the information we write about to make an impact in their schools and communities. If you have an idea for a type of event you would like to see, let me know.

Write about your experience

When we launch our new website, our Voices section will be renamed “First Person” to highlight what our goal is for the section to provide: informed perspectives based on first-hand experience with the school system. There are limits to what we as journalists can know and understand. The first person section is a place readers can hear directly from teachers, administrators, students, policymakers, and soon, we hope, from parents as well.

Email me if you’re interested in writing a First Person post, or if there’s a perspective missing from the section you’d like to see. I work closely with Chalkbeat Colorado’s editor in chief, Maura Walz, to build a diverse and dynamic network of contributors and edit the submissions we select for publication.

Bring students into the conversation

As part of our effort to bring new voices to the site, one major goal of ours is to give students the opportunity to make their voices heard in the conversation about education. To do that, we’re interested in teaming up with teachers who wanted to expose their students to education reporting and encourage them to write about their own experiences in school.

We are in the early stages of replicating some of the work of our New York bureau, where our community editor is working with three teachers to help facilitate that process. One teacher built a unit on education journalism into her English class, another is teaching a journalism elective, and a third is helping students in the newspaper club she advises think about how to connect their articles to broader conversations about education. As part of this project, reporters and editors run workshops for the participating teachers’ students, who then write and submit their own pieces to First Person.

If you’re a teacher who is interested in bringing us in to work with your class, get in touch. But in the meantime, participating in these units is not necessary for a student to be featured on our website; just look at Destiny and Chaunsae — Project VOYCE’s first two student-contributors!

Hold us accountable

We are working on establishing a “reader advisory board” made up of teachers and other education professionals who help guide our direction, give us feedback, and keep us responsive to what readers actually care about. Our goal is to keep in regular touch with our advisory board members and plan and facilitate meetings every other month. It’s a commitment of only about two hours a month. If you’re interested in joining the board, please let me know.