UPPER WEST SIDE — Leslie Seifert, an Upper West Sider with a long career at Newsday, has a lot of experience chasing writers to meet deadlines.
And now he's using those skills at the Brandeis High School complex on West 84th Street, where he’s starting a student news network he hopes will expand across the city.
“A lot of city schools don’t have newspapers,” Seifert, who hopes to change that in the next few years, said.
As the Department of Education continues to break up large schools in the city to create smaller ones that coexist within one campus, he said he sees these schools aren’t usually communicating with one another.
“Normally schools are very isolated," he said. "The schools have no interaction and there’s very little going into any back and forth [between them]."
He hopes to “create a civic space that doesn’t exist right now,” through his endeavor, Journalists in Schools.
Seifert wants the four high schools at the Brandeis High complex — which include Innovation Diploma Plus, Frank McCourt, the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers and The Global Learning Collaborative — to create articles on topics ranging from the cafeteria food to differing detention policies and non-working water fountains.
As Seifert develops the program, which has funding from McCourt High School for his salary, and which he said has support from all four principals, each school would have its own newspaper and a shared online space for student forums. The online space would spotlight the best and most comprehensive reporting among the papers.
Independence is key to the project’s success, Seifert insisted. With distance from the school’s administration, “there’s pressure to be accurate and careful, because we’re not owned by school authorities. If we’re wrong or irresponsible, they’ll kick us out.”
Though Seifert has already proven that this kind of project is effective, after working for eight years with students at a Long Island City school, he said he’ll use the Brandeis schools as a pilot to apply for funding so that he can eventually create a citywide student-generated news page and network.
For Innovation students in particular, who have not succeeded in other schools, producing journalism has given them a whole new sense of themselves, Seifert said.
“The idea of responsibility is new…. They have to take themselves seriously,” he said.
Innovation student Genesis Delarosa, 19, agreed that it's a chance to learn real-life skills.
“I like that we get firsthand experience,” she said. “It can be tricky to get the answer that you want or the truth."
Elaine Antola, 18, who also attends Innovation, wanted to write about why so many of the students accepted to her school were Hispanic. And Kendrick, a student who didn't want his last name used, said the program and reporting was a good fit for his personality.
"I’m very observant," he said.