NLP gives Student of the Year Award

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When police in Washington, D.C., started using social media last March to post notices about missing children, 17-year-old Jenari Mitchell said she and her friends were gripped with fear that there was a sudden epidemic of teens who had disappeared. Viral posts claiming that young women were being abducted and sold by sex traffickers enflamed their concerns.

Mitchell (right) was presented with her award by Tracie Potts of NBC News Channel at an NLP staff and board dinner in June.

Mitchell (right) was presented with her award by Tracie Potts of NBC News Channel at an NLP staff and board dinner in June. Potts also was presented with an award as the co-winner of the John S. Carroll Journalist Fellow of the Year prize.

Then, Mitchell recalled some lessons she had learned from the News Literacy Project in her U.S. government class at KIPP DC College Preparatory, and she decided to check the rumors out.

What she discovered brought relief to her and her friends: The number of missing youths had actually declined, and most of the young women who had been reported as missing during that period were runaways.

Mitchell’s brave dose of skepticism and her ability to quickly apply news literacy lessons to the world around her led NLP to present her with its first Gwen Ifill Student of the Year Award. It honors the venerated broadcast journalist (and longtime NLP board member) who died last year.

On June 21, at NLP’s annual dinner for staff and board members, Mitchell received an engraved glass plaque with an etched photo of Ifill, the former moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and co-managing editor and co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. She also received a $250 gift card.

The sixth of eight children, Mitchell will begin classes in August at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where she plans to study computer science and software development. Scholarships and grants will cover most of her education costs.

Her government teacher at KIPP, Colleen Murphy, expressed confidence that Mitchell will take her news literacy lessons with her.

“Jenari is already using what she learned,” Murphy said. “She questions the authenticity of sources of information, she expects the media to uncover the truth, she speaks up for her rights. I think the exposure of the NLP came at a time when Jenari was receptive to its message and mission.”

In addition to applying her news literacy lessons by tracking down the viral rumors about missing teens, Mitchell also used them to develop an app with a friend. Called “Focus Token,” the app is designed to be a motivational and organizational tool for students. It includes a schedule, a goal tracker and resources for college, careers and support groups. “I made sure the resources were credible,” she said.

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