Program Paves Way for Future Arab American Journalists

In the 2010-2011 school year, McCollough-Unis School allowed the Asian American Journalism Association (AAJA) to launch a project from the AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program for Unis Middle School students titled “The Living Textbook.” 

The program is headed by Emily Askari, a lecturer at the University of Michigan, and Joe Grimm, a visiting editor in residence Michigan State University. Both have also reported for the Detroit Free Press.

“The Living Textbook” is designed to teach 7th and 8th graders unique journalism skills early in life to promote an interest in reporting on events and stories of people around the students. The program allows the students to use a multimedia platform to tell their stories, including audio, video and photography. 

Students are encouraged to explore new ways to report on issues they feel are important to their community. As a majority of the students are Arab American, the program also promotes a rise in Arab American journalists in the next generation of reporters for more fair and equal coverage in ethnic media.

Director Joe Grimm said that the students at Unis Middle School are well aware of international news.

“For them, events in the Middle East are not foreign news, but family news. They know what is going on and follow it closely. In some cases, stories from Syria are about their cousins, aunts and uncles,” said Grimm.

Hussein Bazzi, a 20-year-old HFCC student, agreed: “I think the program is amazing. The entire idea around it is genuine and it is something that is needed greatly.”

The middle school’s principal, Heyam Alcodray, said that the program has been successful in engaging students in world news, especially Middle Eastern issues.

Bazzi said: “Nowadays, Arab Americans are being hated and mistreated very openly by media outlets and even our elected officials in Congress. I believe this program can help bring Arab Americans into the media part of society, and also help enlighten the greater part of thes United States and show everyone, as African Americans did not too long ago, that we are not so different, and that we are all equal and should be treated as equals.”

Grimm also said the program is working with the first generation of Arab Americans to grow up without memories of 9/11, but they are still familiar with the events.

“They know how it has affected them as Americans and as residents of Dearborn, and they have felt that their entire lives,” said Grimm.

“These students with this experience at such a young age, will bring to the journalism field excellent experience in understanding the issues in the Middle East,” said Alcodray.

Alcodray also said that the program is teaching kids at a young age how to meet deadlines, analyze situations and clear writing. On the program’s website, it shows how much the young students have actually achieved in thinking above and beyond for their age, with book reviews on “The Kite Runner” and even an article about pursuing careers.

The students are also learning how to shoot video and take photos from interesting angles, things that some journalists are just now learning in their careers.

"If you give a middle-school journalist a camera and a computer, good things happen,” said Grimm.

The program has received video camera and camera equipment donations from Kodak, Costco and Target, encouraging the students to present the news in other ways than print. It also has been supported by the McCormick Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The upcoming 2012-2013 school year will be the third year for “The Living Textbook,” proving to be a successful program. Students can post their work on the website at www.livingtextbook.aaja.org, allowing them to share their experiences with the rest of Dearborn’s community.