Alba Mendiola: 2023 Alan C. Miller Educator of the Year
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
Alba Mendiola has had an enviable career in broadcast journalism. After working in Mexico, where she was born and raised, Mendiola came to the United States and spent 16 years as a reporter at the Spanish-language news station Telemundo. Along the way, she won several Emmys.
Someone in her situation might understandably feel entitled to kick back a little. But Mendiola, NLP’s 2023 Alan C. Miller Educator of the Year, isn’t ready for that. Instead, at the peak of her career, she changed gears and became an educator. “I like journalism, and I like teaching,” she said. “Teaching journalism combined both passions.”
Five years ago, she began teaching Spanish and public speaking at Chicago’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, where students are bilingual and largely come from immigrant families of limited financial means. Recognizing that her students needed to better understand the news and be able to find accurate information and reliable sources online, she created a dual-language broadcast journalism class in 2021.
“One of the things I tell my students in the first class is, ‘Do you want to be informed or do you want to be influenced?’ Because they are two different things,” she said.
For many of her students, the stakes are high if they are unable to fully understand issues in the news or find reliable information.
“Because our students are bilingual, they sometimes are the ones who translate for their families. When they go to a doctor’s appointment, they translate. When there is something happening legally, they’re there. They are the source of information for their families. The consequences for them not getting the right information could potentially be a big problem,” she noted.
An educator committed to lifelong learning
Mendiola weaves news literacy concepts into the course curriculum, teaching students about quality journalism and the ethics and standards they must apply to their reporting projects. She tells them: “With power comes responsibilities. Now, anybody with a cellphone can be a reporter. You need to know the ethics of being a journalist, and if you don’t, then you’re not doing good for the community.”
Students learn foundational concepts of journalism and news literacy through NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom, including understanding how bias can slip into news coverage and recognizing their own and others’ biases. The course also broadens their perspectives about their place in the world and what they can achieve.
And Mendiola is an ideal role model to instill an appreciation for continual learning. In May, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Master of Arts in teaching.
Taylor Sticha, senior manager of strategic engagement at the school, said Mendiola gives students opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have, while teaching practical and essential skills. “Working with students in class and through extracurriculars, Alba is demonstrating the importance of news and media literacy and ensuring that Cristo Rey students understand the importance of these skills and can apply them to their daily lives.”
For Mendiola, it’s all about the joy of teaching and learning. “The thing I love about teaching journalism is to see my students’ reactions when they learn something new. You plant a little seed and then you just let the seed grow.”