Q&A: This Week's Gambit Cover Story Is About Unsung Heroes. Meet The Student Who Wrote It.
This week’s cover story for the Gambit features profiles of the “unsung heroes” who are helping schools in New Orleans get ready for the unprecedented year ahead.
And — in turns out — the story was also co-written by a student journalist. Evelynn Coffie, a recent graduate of Lusher Charter High School, partnered with Gambit staff writer Sarah Ravits on the piece. The two connected as part of the New Orleans Junior Journalism Program, a local nonprofit that helps train and teach students journalism.
WWNO/WRKF News Director Patrick Madden spoke with Evelynn about her experience writing the story.
Patrick Madden: One of the profiles in this story is about Scarlett O'Dell Berckes, who works as a social worker at several schools. She talks about the challenges of her job and how she's had to adapt since the schools shut down. Can you tell us what surprised you the most about your interview with Scarlett?
Evelynn Coffie: I think what was most surprising was that she was still so resilient and wants to go back and help students even through the pandemic — regardless of whether it’s online or not. And [I was also surprised] by how she's been on the ball through the summer and the school year, and hasn't taken a break off.
She's just going at it. And it's kind of difficult for me personally to wrap my mind around that — just being in a profession where you really cannot take a day off [because] what you're doing is important. It was just really eye-opening listening to her story and listening to her perspective about what it means to be in spaces she's necessary and people need her.
And you also spoke with Alicia Dean, administrative secretary at Eleanor McMain Secondary School. With her story she spoke about some of the risks involved for someone returning to school who has health issues that they're worried about. Tell us about your interview with Alicia.
I felt with her perspective it can be really difficult and challenging trying to go back to school with underlying conditions but still love your job. Also [she’s] somebody who thrives off of relationships with students and with teachers and everyone in the school community — and how it’s hard to risk that because of your health. I just graduated and I remember seeing secretaries in my school, saying 'hello' to and [constantly] checking in with. It's hard looking into the lives of others, to know that so many teachers or staff in school who have conditions and [might be] prohibited from going back — that was something I learned with her story.
Evelynn, after telling these stories and interviewing these people, did it give you — as a student — a different perspective of some of the folks you would see every day?
I think for me, personally speaking, getting into the lives of people who are social workers and secretaries — it was a pretty eye-opening experience. And I realized that people are committed to what they do and not everybody is there to get a quick check and go home. There are people who are genuinely passionate about their job and are worried about returning to work because they don't know what's going to happen.
Evelynn Coffie, 18, will be attending Grinnell College this fall and hopes to continue in journalism.