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De La Salle Academy: Empowering 21st-Century Learners, Thinkers and Leaders

Broadcast journalist (and De La Salle alumna) Stephanie Officer returned to her old school for a classroom visit in March. Photo by Nicole Rothwell
Angel Gonzalez’s “Aha!” moment — the one that crystallized the value of teaching news literacy to his students at De La Salle Academy in New York City — came early in his partnership with the News Literacy Project.

“I printed out a fake news article about how the U.S. Senate was going to change the names of all Latino people in the country to more Anglo-sounding names,” said Gonzalez, who teaches middle school social studies. “I told the kids that I really wanted them to think about this issue.” 

Some students were horrified by what they were reading. But others were able to debunk the fake news article — and felt empowered to say so.
 
“That was a moment where I felt like I could clearly see the outcomes,” Gonzalez said, recalling his experience of nearly four years ago. “I could see them not just developing a set of skills, but a sense of confidence. … To me, that was the goal: to empower students to say, ‘This is not true.’”

Since then, Gonzalez, who has a doctorate in social and cultural studies in education from the University of California, Berkeley, has created similar moments in NLP units blended into his American Studies and Civil Rights classes every spring at De La Salle. The program is supported by a grant from HBO. 

“What caught my attention about NLP was that it wasn’t just about current events,” he said. “For me, what was valuable about it was this idea of students being critical consumers, but also producers of knowledge, which I think is so important for our kids.” 
 
NLP first partnered with De La Salle Academy — a private coeducational nonsectarian middle school for academically gifted students who are economically disadvantaged — in 2012. During a semester-long journalism and news literacy elective, students worked with seven NLP journalist fellows to create a multimedia website about the impact of e-books.

“It was just amazing,” recalled the school’s founder, Brother Brian Carty. “The connection was instantaneous.”

After NLP’s classroom program found a home in De La Salle’s social studies department, Gonzalez partnered with NLP staff to deliver core lessons and provide opportunities for students to engage with a diverse group of journalists. 

David Gonzalez, a longtime reporter, photojournalist and editor at The New York Times and a recent recipient of NLP’s John S. Carroll Journalist Fellow Award, has worked closely with De La Salle students over the years. In 2013, for example, he taught them how the standards of journalism are applied to stories told through the medium of photography and offered tips and feedback on student work.
 
Other highlights included multiple visits to Angel Gonzalez’s class by Daisy Rosario, a producer at NPR’s “Latino USA,” who led interview workshops. 

After one of Rosario’s visits, Gonzalez said, “a lot of kids wanted to interview people, they wanted to practice, and they felt empowered to do so. It showed the possibility of what the program can be in terms of generating interest and excitement about using a skill in the world, and that’s something that’s really hard to do as a teacher.”