One day in January, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed like normal. An advertisement popped up showing some high-school-aged students on the Brooklyn Bridge, along with the words, “The School of The New York Times Pre-College NYC Summer Academy.” I had recently been researching summer journalism programs for high school students and I suppose those searches were fresh in my phone’s memory. I clicked the link.
Browsing the list of courses offered, I as an aspiring journalist, was drawn to a course entitled, “Writing the Big City: Reporting in New York.” It sounded incredible. If I attended this program, I would get to spend two weeks in New York City, learning from New York Times journalists and exploring.
Once my parents decided that I could go if I could raise the money, I began the application process. I had to answer some short answer questions and submit a transcript and letter of recommendation from a teacher.
Not long afterward, I got an email from The School of The New York Times (SoNYT). The first word read, “Congratulations!” Finding out that I would get to explore my passion at such a prestigious level was an amazing feeling. I was lucky enough to not only be accepted to the program but to be offered enough financial aid that I would be able to attend. I also applied for scholarships and started a GoFundMe page to help lessen the cost for my family.
The course I was accepted to was the Writing the Big City course during the last week of June and the first week of July. The program was to be taught by Ari Goldman, former New York Times journalist and current professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
During our two weeks in New York City, the other residential SoNYT students and I stayed in a dorm room at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The other students came from all across the country and all over the world.
Some days class was held on campus and other days we left campus to use the city as our classroom. On our first day, my class and I got to go to the New York Times building and tour the newsroom. For someone who does not work at the New York Times and especially for a group of aspiring journalists, this opportunity was very special and unique.
On the days when we stayed on campus, we usually had writing lessons and practice. We were taught how to structure articles and write effectively. As practice we interviewed first our peers and then New York Times education reporter Kate Taylor. We wrote articles after each of these interviews and received feedback from our TAs, one of whom is a current Columbia Journalism student while they other is a former Columbia Journalism student who currently works at CNN.
Near the end of the first week, our class went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). On the steps of the Met, we did what are called, “man on the street interviews.” We walked up to random people and asked them if they would be willing to answer some questions. Our goals with this activity were to practice interviewing and to practice creating journalistic social media posts similar to those of Humans of New York. We did the activity in pairs or groups of three students. My two partners and I met some very interesting people. At first it was nerve-wracking to just go up to random people on the street, but once they said yes and started telling us about themselves and their lives, it was incredible. It is one thing to hear people say that everyone has their own story, but it is something else entirely to witness that truth and have strangers open up to you and tell you their stories. I met some very interesting people that day from Boston, Quebec and Spain. I came away from the experience smiling.
For our final project, the class was divided into partners to write articles about Jackson Heights, an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Queens. Many of the pairs wrote about ethnic businesses there. We happened to do our interviewing on the Fourth of July, so my partner and I asked people their opinions on Independence Day and centered our article around that idea. Final projects from all of the courses were presented at an event called Demo Day on the last night of the program.
Besides class, SoNYT organized a variety of evening activities and weekend excursions for students. I saw the American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, toured the Morgan Library and explored Lower Manhattan, among other things.
My experience at the SoNYT was once in a lifetime. I hope to take everything I learned there with me to college and then hopefully to a career in journalism. And I certainly learned a lot, including journalistic writing and interviewing skills, different ways to consume the news, how to have the confidence to talk to random people on the street and even how to ride the subway.