RIverside High School student journalists. Photo by Lena Geller. 

Riverside High School student journalists held a rapt audience of educators, alumni, reporters, and proud parents at the Durham County Main Library last night as they presented investigative stories they reported on topics ranging from the lack of diversity in Advanced Placement classes to the filthiness of the school bathrooms.

The stories were produced as part of a partnership between Riverside’s student newspaper and the Ida B. Wells Society, a national organization housed in UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school that aims to increase the ranks and retention of reporters of color in the field of investigative reporting.

Bryan Christopher, an English and Journalism teacher at Riverside who has helmed the production of the school newspaper for the past six years, said the partnership successfully “affirmed and amplified student voices that for too long haven’t been heard.”

“I’m tired of attending local and national scholastic journalism conferences and seeing few—if any—students of color, other than our own,” Christopher said.

The diversity of Christopher’s students was reflected in the topics of their stories, many of which posed questions relating to equity and inclusion in the school environment: Why is Riverside’s engineering program disproportionately white? What’s the difference between appropriation and appreciation of cultural hairstyles? Why doesn’t Riverside offer courses on career pathways for bilingual and multilingual students? Why are so many native Spanish speakers enrolled in introductory level Spanish classes? 

To answer these questions, students spent months conducting surveys, compiling datasets, and interviewing peers and experts. Their finished stories, which will be published on the school newspaper’s website in the coming week, exhibit an astonishing amount of research and reporting.

Eden Richman, whose story paints a grim picture of the current working conditions for teachers in North Carolina, conducted dozens of interviews and spent hours poring over data to supplement her piece.

“I talked to a teacher in Allegheny County who said that their school board wouldn’t let them teach anything—that [the school board] is embittered and closed-minded to public education, and accuses them of trying to indoctrinate their students into their liberal agenda,” Richman said. “I talked to a teacher who used to work in Halifax County, who said they went three years without any math teachers, and four years without any counselors.”

The list went on and on.

As part of the Ida B. Wells partnership, the students were mentored by two professional reporters—Laura Brache of The News & Observer, and the INDY’s own Thomasi McDonald—who offered advice on things like lede-writing and narrowing broad issues into focused articles.

Genesis Smith Lopez, who co-wrote the piece on career pathways for bilingual and multilingual students, said that Brache gave particularly helpful tips on exercising patience and empathy while conducting interviews.

“High school kids, they have a lot to say. No matter what it is, they have something to say about everything and anything,” Smith Lopez said. “So you just have to give them the space to really put their feelings out there without any type of judgment or ridicule.

She paused for a second, then added, “I think I did a really good job at that.”

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to lgeller@indyweek.com.