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by: Rich Kane

Real Citizen Journalism

Here’s a novel concept for community-based journalism: get people who actually live in the community to do the journalism.

That’s what the Dallas Morning News has in mind with its recent launching of the Hispanic Families Network, which it created thanks in part to a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

The idea is to provide parents living in Latino neighborhoods of the Dallas area with training—in reporting, writing, blogging, and social media—to better inform their communities about available education and literacy programs they may not know exist.

“We started looking at projects we could have an impact on, and one was early childhood education and literacy,” said Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of the Morning News’ Spanish-language sister newspaper Al Día, which helped create the network. “We’re not educators, but what we can do is recruit concerned moms who could disseminate information about pre-kindergarten and literacy programs via social media, and give them training and smartphones to help close that information gap.”

“We find mothers through social service agencies and meet with them twice a month,” said project coordinator Cynthia Pérez-Vadillo. “We teach them basic writing, Google searching and social media. It’s a core of 18 moms right now, and they’re very involved.”

Pérez-Vadillo adds the program is successful enough that more communities will be added this year, with a target number of 60 parents producing content for the network, which is largely on Facebook.

“We met with several nonprofits and repeatedly heard that a big problem in getting Spanish-speaking kids educated was a lack of awareness of what’s available to them,” enterprise editor Tom Huang said.

“Local school districts provide some information in Spanish, but sometimes for parents, it’s not always intuitive to find that information,” said education reporter Eva-Marie Ayala. “They would need to use Google Translate, for example. A lot of programs target Spanish-speaking families, but a lot of families and mothers don’t know where to find information like enrollment schedules and requirements.”

According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, many Hispanic children in several Dallas neighborhoods aren’t literate by the completion of third grade. A 2013 study revealed that 83 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders in Texas scored below a proficient reading level.

The Hispanic Families Network is completely a community service program for the Morning News and Al Día, according to Carbajal.

“We’re not doing this for any other reason,” he said. “We just want to help the community we serve by applying journalism skills to help parents and their children succeed.”

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