This Ain't No Fooling Around
Central Coast high schoolers take on the big issues in a newspaper by and for youth.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
"I still say someone should dress up like a condom," insists Maria Garcia at a story meeting for Shout Out newspaper. "Then our ''Question On The Street'' can be, ''Where do you get one of these?''"
Finding new and inventive ways to promote safe sex among teens-and a human-sized talking condom surely qualifies as inventive-is exactly what Shout Out specializes in. Written and edited by students of Watsonville High School and distributed from Salinas to Santa Cruz, Shout Out is an outgrowth of Project ACTION, a non-profit program that began in 1992 in Portland, Ore. with a safe sex campaign aimed at teens. With the pragmatic understanding that billboards and peer counseling only go so far, Project ACTION advocates making condoms available to teens. The Central Coast now joins San Jose and Seattle as the latest beneficiaries of Project ACTION''s practical approach, and Shout Out is its media vehicle.
According to studies conducted in 1999 by Population Services International (Project ACTION''s parent organization) in a variety of sites in the western United States, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties were experiencing high rates of teen pregnancy, particularly in the Latino community. As a result of these studies, PSI held a teen forum in Watsonville in February 2001. Participants at the meeting decided that a newspaper written by and for teens would be the best way to give youth a voice and provide reliable information about sexual risk reduction to young people living along the Central Coast. With editorial guidance from El Andar, a national quarterly magazine that features Latino arts and politics, Shout Out was able to publish its first issue in the summer of 2001.
At a recent brainstorming session for Shout Out''s fourth issue, story ideas are flying. Drugs, same-sex relationships and teen pregnancy are all fair game. "We try to open it up as much as possible to what the teens want to talk about," says Nan Lewicky, the newspaper''s project manager. "Most of the ideas the students come up with themselves. We just help them with content."
And content there is. The topics floated for the "Question on the Street" section-suggestions include "What was the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you?" and "What can Watsonville youths do to make life more exciting?"-reflect the innocence one might typically associate with a high school writing team. However, a glance at the list of the next issue''s possible cover stories reveals two decidedly hefty issues for reporters of any age. The top headlines in the running include "Heroin Usage in Watsonville: A Day in the Life of an HIV-Infected Youth" and "Homosexuality: Alternative Lifestyles."
According to Fabiola Cardenas, Shout Out''s teen managing editor, health is a driving concern for the paper. "The most important information we try to get out there is probably about having protected sex," she says. "So many freshman and sophomores are already pregnant. We want to promote the idea that if you''re going to be sexually active, you can also be safe. Teens need to have information to make the right choices."
She also says the response to Shout Out''s straightforward approach, with headlines such as "What''s Sex: Is There More To It Than You Think?" and "Teen Moms Tell Their Story," has been a positive one-ultimately. "At first the principal at Watsonville High School wouldn''t allow us to distribute Shout Out on campus," says Cardenas. "But after he read it over, he changed his mind.
"In school," she says, "we''re used to pamphlets. When teens see that somebody their own age wrote the article, somebody they can relate to, they find it interesting, and they''ll listen."
When asked about future goals for the paper, the students reply in chorus, "More pages, more readers." At last count, Shout Out''s circulation neared 8,000 between the local businesses, drug and rehabilitation programs, and schools it distributes to in Monterey, Salinas, and Watsonville.
According to Bonnie Holmer, the program coordinator of the POSTPONE Teen Pregnancy Collaborative for the Monterey County Health Department, Shout Out should have no trouble increasing its distribution numbers. Holmer, whose project has a similar aim in achieving healthy and responsible sexual attitudes among teens, believes that Shout Out "serves well as a youth-based community paper that opens up informed conversations among teens."
"We want people in the local community to get to know our paper," says Maria Garcia, a recent addition to Shout Out''s staff. Garcia, who also works part-time and has already decided that she is going to study law in college, says that for her Shout Out was a way to get involved.
"We don''t see it as homework," she says, "It''s like a club where you get to write." Garcia, who wrote the cover story "What They Claim: Getting In and Out of Watsonville''s Gangs" for Shout Out''s March issue, is looking for a leaner topic to address in the upcoming edition of the newspaper. She says that while researching her last article, she went on a police ridealong in which the officers she was with discovered a dead body.
Garcia''s experience spurs more discussion among the group, and Rachel Barron, a representative from El Andar, shows the students how to use these life events as a point of departure for future stories. When Cardenas, who is having trouble thinking of an idea for her next piece, complains that "nothing exciting ever happens" to her, the statement stands directly in contrast to the complex issues the students have been grappling with for nearly two hours. To Cardenas'' complaint, Barron replies, "Anything''s an article, Fabiola," and by the end of the session, Cardenas seems to have taken this mantra to heart.
"Now," says Cardenas, as I gather up my things, the journalist within her no longer able to contain itself, "can we ask you some questions?"
For more information about Shout Out, call 722-9277.