COMPTON, Calif. — For journalism students at Jefferson Elementary in Compton, asking questions matters more than the actual answers.

“[It’s] to improve in our English and talk to people and be more confident,” said Ayleen Andrade, who’s part of the school’s journalism program.

The children are all English learners in third through fifth grade who are at risk of becoming long-term English learners. Those are students who have been in school for six years or more and have not been reclassified as “English proficient” based on their test scores on the ELPAC, a language proficiency exam.

“As a requirement to be reclassified, they need to have a score of four, and most of them have just a score of three. And if you look at it, it’s the writing part that pulls the scores down,” said Dr. Phoebe Manso, an English Learner Specialist at Jefferson Elementary.

Manso runs the journalism after-school program at Jefferson and helps the students come up with questions and prepare their interviews with various teachers and staff on campus.

The program uses a curriculum from Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Equity for English Learners. The students record the interviews and then write articles to help them improve their speaking and writing skills. At the end of the 10-week program, they put out a newsletter, which showcases what they’ve learned.

“I really love that I get to speak to different types of people that I’ve never met and learn what they like to do,” said student Kate Reyes.

The young journalists also get their own press passes and Dr. Manso says she tries to make it feel more like a club than another class. Some boys in the class interviewed their principal.

“The interviews help me and looking at the questions helps me stop stuttering,” said student Adrian Espinoza.

Compton Unified first piloted the program in 2015 as a way of reducing the number of long-term English learners. Prior to pandemic, they had an average of 14 elementary schools per year participating. The school says the program has had an impact and in 2019, received the Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association.

“Seeing the confidence, seeing them grow, and seeing how they feel confident and articulating their ideas and making connections with people,” Manso said.

She acknowledges many of the kids are nervous at first, but they become more comfortable and once they see their byline in the newsletter, she feels it motivates them to continue making writing their superpower and using journalism as a pathway to English proficiency.

Let “Inside the Issues” know your thoughts and watch Monday through Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.