Local radio partnership offers high school students hands-on journalism experience

KUNR and the Washoe County School District collaborate to create Reno Youth Radio, an educational opportunity for students

Reno Youth Radio reporters Wyatt Daane and Molly Concialdi, right, interview City of Reno officials Kurt Dietrich, a Civil Engineer and Lauren Garber, Public Information Officer. Photo taken by Ky Plaskon.

Two student reporters and two City of Reno officials record an interview.

The educational experience is evolving and students today have the opportunity to learn much more than they would have years ago. This is true among Washoe County high schoolers, as they are receiving even greater opportunities to learn about their future careers while still in school thanks to the Reno Youth Radio program that launched in January. The program was developed by KUNR, a non-profit public radio station broadcasting live from the University of Nevada, Reno, in collaboration with the Washoe County School District.

"KUNR Leadership Board members Christine Kelly and Christie Gescheider initiated this as a way to add newer, younger voices and diverse perspectives to our content while getting youth involved in public radio," David Stipech, general manager at KUNR, said. "Since we have programs and internships for college journalism students, making an impact on high school students seemed like a great opportunity to prepare the next generation of public radio journalists and storytellers. The school district became excited about the idea and has been a great partner in this collaboration."

Dana Ryan, director of the WCSD's Signature Academy and Career & Technical Education department, explained that this pilot program and those that follow it are directly aligned to the school district's strategic plan, Envision 2020, which has a goal of reinforcing the pathway to college and career readiness by providing opportunities for successful transition after high school.

Ryan further explained that there is a renewed interest in internship opportunities for students before they complete high school, as well as during their college years, to ensure they are adequately prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary for success upon graduation. The Reno Youth Radio program will serve as a model for other internship partnerships in the future that will aid students in programs associated with manufacturing, culinary, public relations and more.

"There are other youth radio projects at public radio stations across the country, yet the Reno Youth Radio program is unique in providing a teacher in the classroom each week, leveraging the expertise of KUNR's news team and the journalism school at the University," Stipech said. "Having a veteran public radio reporter-turned teacher like Ky Plaskon instructing the students is a big plus. The students not only gain skills related to writing, interviewing, journalism and storytelling, the program also helps them build confidence, speaking skills and critical thinking that can impact their success in school, in college and in their careers."

Stipech explained that the program has no more than 10 students in their senior year from throughout the school district, who receive hands-on experience and individualized guidance from the program's instructor Kyril "Ky" Plaskon, who was a news reporter and now a full-time teacher with the Washoe County School District.

"The academic and social benefits of this program are bar-none," Plaskon said. "Studies show that students who are engaged in the consumption of news and its production are more civically engaged. In an era when apathy is rampant among youth, this is something Reno and the entire nation sorely need."

Maria Ballesteros, a senior at the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology and a student reporter in the program, said that she joined because she wanted to learn more about media journalism. She enjoys the freedom that she is given as a student reporter, as she compares the program to having her own talk show, where she can freely choose to write about the subjects and people she enjoys most.

Plaskon has very high expectations for the students in the program, as he requires them to think independently, produce ideas and then follow through.

"The program has helped me become a better reporter out on the streets," Ballesteros said. "I've learned to ask better questions, and I'm learning to tell stories in a format for radio which is something I had not previously done. It's making me more flexible and faster, and it's teaching me to stay on my toes."

Ballesteros is currently working on several stories and has one completely finished, which is about one of her current teachers who is involved with community service and encourages students to be as well. She explained that Plaskon will sometimes provide stories for the students, but she enjoys finding businesses and people who are not commonly known to write about.

"I like writing about people who may not be known because I am a dedicated believer that every single person on Earth has a unique life with stories worth telling," Ballesteros said. "I also believe that there are too many people whose voices cannot be heard. I have found myself in that situation, and I am very lucky now to have a voice, so I want to speak not only my truth but the truth of others as well."

After graduating from AACT, Ballesteros is planning to attend the University to pursue her bachelor's degree in marketing as a way to explore fields other than journalism. She is also planning to earn her master's degree while staying involved with different forms of media broadcast.

"I would like to see this program expand to regular class times in high schools, going from eight students to 100," Plaskon said. "That way, more students can realize the benefits of being civically engaged, and the community can realize those benefits, too, in the long-term."

To learn more about the program, its students and their stories, to suggest story ideas, or to become a student reporter, visit the KUNR Reno Youth Radio site or contact Ky Plaskon at 775-287-0302, or via email at KPlaskon@WashoeSchools.net.

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