It is virtually impossible to measure the impact of former Inquirer associate editor emeritus Acel Moore’s work in bringing high school journalism back to Philadelphia’s neighborhood schools 10 years ago. Moore died Feb. 12, and some of those schools are gone, but the students’ experiences and the lessons they learned live on.
Dorothy Gilliam, a retired Washington Post columnist, approached Moore when she sought help in broadening her D.C.-area-based Prime Movers Media program, which connects students to professional journalists. She went to Moore because he ran a workshop for high school students at the Inquirer and because “he was almost like a hero in Philadelphia.”
Using his reputation and contacts, Moore, a Pulitzer Prize winner, brought top school officials to the table, impressing the Knight Foundation enough to provide initial funding, Gilliam said. “We had the right people around the table at a critical moment.”
School newspapers are among the victims of sweeping budget cuts. The plan for Prime Movers was to bring journalism back to schools. The goal was to create both online and print news outlets, as well as broadcasts. The program would also help teachers build a journalism curriculum and learn from other teachers about the useful practice of journalism.
Using grant money to pay teachers for working with afterschool clubs, the effort included support from professional journalists and, at Moore’s urging, sending Temple journalism students into high school classrooms. Prime Movers has done all that at various times, even adding annual trips to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., despite an unstable school financial environment.
Since 2007, with the help of the School District’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Prime Movers journalism programs existed at various times in more than 20 schools: the Academy at Palumbo, Arts Academy at Rush, Bartram, Benjamin Franklin, Communications Tech, Constitution, Carver, Edison, Elverson Military, Frankford, Franklin Learning Center, Fels, Gratz, Kensington Culinary, Lincoln, Northeast, Overbrook, Parkway West, Paul Robeson, Roxborough, Swenson, Roberts Vaux, George Washington, and the Youth Study Center.
Bonnee Breese Bentum remembers how Moore fought to have his alma mater, Overbrook High School, included. Now a teacher at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber, she said schools “like Overbrook,” where she taught for 14 years, “are often counted out and deemed unworthy.”
As money to pay teachers for extra work diminished, programs would pause and then resume. At some schools, journalism classes became part of the curriculum. During the last two years, according to Reginald Moton, a career awareness specialist who directs the program for the District’s CTE office, there have been continuing programs at Constitution High School, Kensington Health Sciences, Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber, Philadelphia Military Academy, South Philadelphia, and Widener Memorial.
Last year, students at Philadelphia Military Academy met in a lab room at the Temple School of Media and Communications' Annenberg Hall, solidifying Moore's idea for the journalism department to partner with the School District. In fact, support for the District’s journalism efforts is part of the curriculum for Temple's students. They take part in service learning through a high school journalism workshop class, which guides them in supporting classroom teachers. In 2010, the department took over the training for teachers in Prime Movers and began offering a four-week summer program for Philadelphia high school students.
Over the years, the Philadelphia initiative begun by Moore and Gilliam has also been supported by the William Penn, Wyncote, Target and Samuel Fels Foundations and the Otto Haas Charitable Trust. The Temple journalism department’s summer partnership with the District also has been supported by the Philadelphia Youth Network’s WorkReady program, the Dow Jones News Fund and The Daily News.
Despite his declining health, Moore attended nearly every Prime Movers year-end celebration and personally saluted the students who won the journalism awards named in his honor. Upon learning of Moore’s death, George Washington High School teacher Sheryl Kirby remembered watching Moore on stage during the ceremonies.
“I always noticed that he looked at each student with pride, even though he did not know them on a personal level," she said. "He just seemed to take pride in hearing about their accomplishments in our journalism programs, and the students felt it. He was a true inspiration to them.”
In addition to teaching journalism skills, all the high school students, teachers, journalists, college students, and professors who participated in this effort know that journalism training teaches civic engagement, self-expression, conversational skills, problem solving, powers of observation, research resourcefulness, social interaction, listening skills, conflict resolution, and much more.
With the explosion of citizen journalism and readily available means of message distribution, it’s heartening to imagine how the opportunities to learn and offer journalism lessons in Philadelphia schools, first facilitated by Acel Moore, can affect the future.
Maida Cassandra Odom is an assistant professor of journalism in Temple University’s School of Media and Communication and a member of the Notebook’s board of directors.