Isaac Stein Sets The Criterion

With his University of Chicago classes starting much later than most other schools’ — this week — Isaac Stein might have spent the last month Snapchatting or sleeping in.

The 2012 Staples grad did neither. Instead, he sparked a journalistic renaissance in a Bridgeport high school.

Writing was always Isaac’s passion. As a senior writer and web editor-in-chief for the Staples school newspaper, Inklings, he fought student disenfranchisement, and crusaded for change on many fronts.

One memorable story exposed Matsu Sushi’s policy of tacking tips onto teenagers’ bills — without telling them ahead of time.

At Chicago, Isaac became news editor of The MaroonThis summer, back home, he worked at the Minuteman. Looking at public schools’ website, he noticed Central High School’s excellent online archives. One issue, from the 1990s, featured front-page stories on a Laotian student’s immigration issues and the AIDS Quilt exhibit.

But, Isaac learned, the Criterion had been defunct since 2001, when Central’s journalism class was cut.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Isaac is a firm believer in the power of high school journalism to give students a voice, and foster social justice. He met Central principal Eric Graf, who put him in touch with English department co-chair Joe Jeffery.

When school started, Isaac visited English classrooms (including that of Westporter Andy McConnell). He preached his vision of a new Criterion. 

Almost immediately, 30 teenagers showed up at twice-weekly meetings. Isaac taught them the basics. They took it from there.

The online paper — — has featured an op-ed piece on Ferguson, sexism and the appropriation of the word “ghetto.” It’s a lively, provocative paper. Isaac gives all the credit to the students — most of whom are just a couple of years younger than he.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion's editor-in-chief.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion’s editor-in-chief.

Isaac has been impressed with their talent, enthusiasm, and level of respect. He also bristles at stereotypes.

“Before I went in, people said, ‘Don’t go there. They’re a bunch of animals,'” he says.

“That’s not-so-veiled racism. And it’s very disturbing.”

Isaac loves his students’ creativity and intelligence, and the “raw people power” he sees. He’s disturbed at the obstacles they face. But he’s amazed, for example, that there is no centralized email system, making communication difficult.

When Isaac played basketball at Staples, he and his teammates had to pass through metal detectors at Central. That was the only contact he had with the school.

Now, he knows, students wait 40 minutes before class every day at those metal detectors. “That’s 3 1/2 hours a week of dead weight, lost time,” he says. “Staples has 12 doors, and everyone walks right through. I never thought about that.”

His young writers are already working on a news story and op-ed piece about that issue.

It will run without Isaac, however. He’s finally back at Chicago, ready to start classes.

But — hundreds of miles away — his legacy lives on. An editor-in chief has been chosen for the Criterion. A permanent advisor has been named.

And funds have been promised for the next 2 years.





9 responses to “Isaac Stein Sets The Criterion

  1. Wow, this is such a wonderful story. In recent years general appreciation for the role that responsible journalism plays in our lives seems to have declined, which can only be detrimental to our society. Way to go, Isaac!

  2. Great initiative Isaac!

  3. What a wonderful story! This double warms my heart as a Westporter and a U of C alumni. Isaac makes us all proud!

  4. Rita Reagan Hulme

    What an impressive young man! It will be fun to watch where his life takes him in the future.

  5. What a great accomplishment. Kudos to Isaac.

  6. Dan, so good to read something positive and local…So many in Westport are not aware of what is happening or not happening in adjacent towns. Having worked in Norwalk for many years and in Bridgeport for a few more (in the state’s community college system), it is heartening to find young people from Westport who not only look to our nearby neighbors, but do something about addressing needs in these less fortunate communities. Good for Isaac:-) Tina Gangi

  7. Andrew McConnell

    My own kids (away at college) pointed out this article to me, so thanks for highlighting the terrific work by Isaac and that of the students here at Central.

  8. Without Isaac’s help, such a quick re-start of our venerable school paper would definitely not have happened this year!

    Everyone who comes to work with our youth here in Bridgeport comes away with the same positive impression — The talent and energy of these young people is world class. It was great to have a similarly talented and energetic mentor come in to work with these students. Thanks again.

    Joe Jeffery
    English Department Co-coordinator
    Central HS

  9. Isaac has always been a young man with an original point of view, the courage of his convictions, and a spirit of engagement (with a healthy dose of humor.) He was a pure delight to teach when he was at Bedford Middle School. The fine print behind this story is Isaac’s genuine passion for both journalism and youth outreach; this is not just a community service project for the sake of enhancing a resume. Kudos, and carry on, fine sir!