Civic Engagement and Social Impact Through Journalism and Storytelling

Each year, the Los Angeles County Office of Education honors some of our most talented educators through the Teachers of the Year (TOY) awards program. We launched the TOY Equitable Innovation Grant program to invest in more dynamic teacher leaders, develop new strategies to help students, share best practices with other educators, and leverage the network of incredible TOY honorees. Each week we will feature grantees highlighting what they have done and continue to do for their schools.

This week’s TOY Blogpost is dedicated to Deanna Tayag.

Deanna Tayag is a 7th grade English teacher at KIPP Comienza in Huntington Park with students ready to change the world. Her students constantly discuss important local and global issues such as voter disenfranchisement, Black Lives Matter, and the effects of the pandemic.. Tayag noticed that despite their passions, her students feel they don’t have the resources or autonomy to create positive change in their community. 

“My students’ ability to thoroughly attend school and be present has also been hindered; with their parents at work, students are left to be the caretakers of their younger siblings during the day, as schools are currently closed,” Tayag said. “Moreover, due to financial restraints, their internet connection is unstable, affecting their quality of education.”

Tayag knew she had to show her students that their voices were important and capable of making a real difference. This is where the idea of the Comienza Communication began: a regular student-led publication, elevating student voice and perspective, dedicated to local community-based issues, and translated into multiple languages. 

Students flocked to Comienza Communication for the opportunity to change the world through writing, photography, and videography. Students write about issues and topics they feel passionate about and amplify unheard stories from their school and surrounding neighborhood. 

“Students have stated that they wish they could discuss with community members their insights and have these discussions. As such, I believe creating a newspaper will help address this need to speak with and address the community.” Tayag said. “ In regards to equity, again, any/all students will be able to serve as active participants and members on this project.”

Community engagement is a key aspect of Comienza Communication; students make sure everyone is included in discussions and is involved in content creation so all perspectives are encompassed. Voices of students that were once limited to the classroom can now reach the entire student body on issues of importance to their communities. 

The publication will also build transferable skills including reading and writing, communication, design, critical thinking, and advocacy. These supplemental learnings through hands-on experiences will enrich learning across subjects and support academic achievement.

Tayag knows the journey ahead will be daunting but is not impossible. Getting the publication off of the ground will take the same dedication and resilience she has seen in her students over the past year. She watched them rise above the consequences of the pandemic – through individual meetings before and after school hours, through their diligence and inquisition, and their proactiveness about getting things accomplished. Despite everything that happened this year, they are invested in their education and take the steps necessary to have their goals come to fruition.

With the help of the Teachers of the Year Equitable Innovation Grant program the goal of Comienza Communication can become a reality. 

We recently spotlighted Deanna during our Equitable Innovation Grant Speaker Series. Greater LA Education Foundation Board Member, Cord Jefferson, and LA Times reporter, Paloma Esquivel, joined Deanna for a conversation on the role that journalism and storytelling can play in cultivating civic agency and student empowerment. Check out a recap of the event below.

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