Police Chief Charlie Beck, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, County Supervisor Gloria Molina and City Councilman Ed Reyes were among the powerful decision-makers who faced tough questions from JSA students at the 35th Annual Gene Burd Institute on Los Angeles Media and Politics. For 5 days, 70 student leaders met downtown Los Angeles to engage with the top leaders from four key issue-areas in Los Angeles: crime, K-12 education, immigration and local politics – culminating with the students producing and filming their very own TV show broadcasts on the “JSA Network.”
The students questioned both Jim Gilcrest, founder of the Minuteman Project and Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, author of the California DREAM Act and delved deeply into the issue of immigration. In one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the nation, immigration is a topic that political leaders and average citizens grapple with daily and it was a key focus of the Institute. Supervisor Gloria Molina spoke to the students about how immigration policy affects her job on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. After getting perspectives from experts in the field the students debated the impact of immigration on the U.S. economy.
Students divided themselves on the first day into three “news shows”, each with it’s own news opinion to report on the happenings of the week, similar to a Fox News show on the right, an MSNBC show on the left, and a third group whose job was to stay neutral in their reporting. “Filming our news broadcasts…was such a fun way to stay really engaged with the speakers, while at the same time knowing I was part of a team to create our own news show”, said Institute student, Abinay Thenappan from Whitney H.S. in Cerritos, CA. The student producers, news anchors, field reporters, interviewees, writers and researchers from each of the three shows took notes, asked pointed questions to the speakers, and ultimately worked together throughout the week to create a 5-minute program on the fictitious “Junior State Network”.
In addition to Chief Beck, crime and justice issues were addressed by commanding officers from divisions in the LAPD from the Human Trafficking Division to the Gang Division.
Before Superintendent Deasy spoke about his vision on improving education in the second largest school district in the country, Gregg Solkovitz, the Vice President of the Los Angeles Teachers’ Union and Steve Barr, Founder of Green Dot Charter, represented different views of education reform. Michael Escobar from Animo Leadership Charter High School, a Green Dot school, reflected, “it was such an honor to meet Steve Barr – he gave me the best opportunity to attend his school, and I’m going to always remember this week.”
Public relations and media skills based training activities ran through out the program. They learned the nuances of designing a media campaign from the ground up, from both Mr. Ted Green, from Woodward & McDowell and Mr. Matthew Klink, President of Los Angeles’ leading public affairs firm, Cerrell & Associates. They also delved into political advocacy through social media with Mr. James Lee from Lee Strategies, and full feature length films with Mr. Jonathan Harris from Participant Media.