‘Many of them were comparing it to Hogwarts’

Local elementary school students learned the method behind the magic at USC Kids News, an undergraduate-led humanities workshop.

Kids pose with a USC Song Girl. (Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday licensed under CC BY 2.0)

On Saturday, student representatives from USC School of Cinematic Arts, Annenberg, Roski and Kaufman led arts and humanities workshops on campus for nearly 300 elementary school students from South Los Angeles. Called USC Kids News, the event is the sixth of its kind to teach third through sixth graders how to excel in arts journalism and other skills in the humanities.

The affair featured dance performances from Kaufman students, a yoga intermission from CorePower and a presentation on arts journalism by Oscar Garza, the director of specialized journalism at Annenberg. Participating students learned about the editorial guidelines that oversee informational and news articles, opinion pieces, reviews and profiles.

“From what I could tell, they really loved it. I think a lot of times in elementary and middle school, the relationship with writing is pretty negative, so to be able to give them something that’s fun and enjoyable was really cool to see,” said Kole Greene, a sophomore screenwriting major, who helped lead the screenwriting section for the visiting students.

The event was organized by the USC chapter of PressFriends Inc., an L.A.-based nonprofit created in 2008. The organization visits Title I elementary schools – schools where children from low-income families make up 40% of the student body – and helps enhance students’ written communication skills.

John Mack Elementary School, situated a mile away from the University Park Campus, was one school that attended the student-led workshops. Silvia Ruiz, a teacher at John Mack, said her fourth and fifth-grade students were thrilled to visit USC. She added that having students physically come to campus greatly boosted morale, especially with USC being “in their backyard.”

“They loved it — today at school it was all the talk,” she said. “Visiting USC, many of them were comparing it to Hogwarts.”

Ruiz added that having young adult mentors allows elementary students to make personal connections that they wouldn’t otherwise have at school.

Every week, members of USC PressFriends visit schools like John Mack to serve as mentors for young aspiring journalists, helping them edit articles and facilitate interviews with scientists, playwrights and even California Supreme Court justices.

Callie McAdams, the co-president of USC PressFriends, said that the organization aims to give young people access to subjects like journalism and screenwriting, which aren’t readily available to students outside prestigious schools like USC. Teaching young students composition and news literacy is of the utmost importance, she said, particularly in the years following the pandemic.

“One reason why I thought that the focus of this event was so impactful this year is because there was a lapse of access to the arts during COVID for a lot of kids,” Callie said. “Writing is everything. It’s also how we express ourselves. So I think, yes, the focus is on journalism, but it’s also on just having a fun way for these kids to write and get more practice writing outside of their typical school essays.”

Devon Lee, a board member of USC PressFriends, echoes this sentiment: “I think especially with the amount of different forms of media that they’re consuming…it’s really important for them to understand what they’re consuming and how.”

Journalism wasn’t the only skill taught at Saturday’s event. Multiple sectors of the arts were explored by students, including screenwriting, which Callie said isn’t always accessible to students outside of prestigious schools like USC.

Greene said he would love to see more similar events on campus, particularly those that focus on philanthropy and mentorship. “I think giving back is really important, especially given how much USC takes from the community,” he continued. “I think giving back is a must.”

Ruiz said that inviting the students on campus united a highly gentrified South L.A., shortening the distance between nearby neighborhoods and USC.

“I think the children visiting USC really makes it seem like it’s something that they can also attain — it’s a goal that can be reached,” Ruiz said. “It’s normalizing the whole. USC is part of our community, and people like us can attend it.”