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 Maroon. This 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.
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 — www.bptcriterion.com — 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 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.