Teens from Detroit, around the country document life in summer 2020 through Coaching Detroit Forward

What was it like to live through the summer of 2020 from a teen’s perspective? For Detroit Writing Room founder Stephanie Steinberg, look no further than the photos and stories produced by her inaugural cohort of Coaching Detroit Forward’s summer journalism camps.


Steinberg opened the Detroit Writing Room in downtown Detroit June 2019, bringing together professional writing, photography, and design coaches (Disclosure: Model D managing editor Dorothy Hernandez is a coach at the Detroit Writing Room and was a coach during the summer journalism camps) and people seeking help with their creative projects and pursuits.

Stephanie Steinberg, founder of the Detroit Writing Room and Coaching Detroit Forward


“The coaches are some of the top journalists, authors, photographers, and creatives in the city, and I wanted Detroit students to be able to learn from them and gain mentors,” Steinberg says. She started the business’ nonprofit arm Coaching Detroit Forward to offer free summer camps, afterschool programs, and other workshops that are led by the coaches and other professionals who want to get involved.


The original plan was to host Detroit students this summer at the Detroit Writing Room, where participants would learn in person from local and national award-winning journalists like Anna Clark, Ashley Woods Branch, and Bill Vlasic, but then the pandemic forced Steinberg to change her plans. Steinberg expanded the program’s reach to include students who hailed from as far as Texas and Maryland and through scholarships, she was able to offer the camp to Detroit students for free. Steinberg talked with us to talk about how she pivoted, connecting with teens through Zoom during a time when everyone is feeling the fatigue, and how she was blown away by the work the students produced.


Model D: Your original vision was to have all Detroit students and the pandemic obviously affected that. How were you able to still serve Detroit students? How many Detroit students were you able to teach? How did you recruit them?

Stephanie Steinberg: Originally, the plan was to have our summer journalism and photography camps at The Detroit Writing Room. We had to pivot and offer the camps mostly on Zoom. However, we still had two to three students at a time go on photo walks throughout the city with our photography coaches. They really enjoyed taking pictures of iconic Detroit places like the Ren Cen or DIA. Between our photography and journalism camps, we had 15 Detroit students participate. Several of them participated in both camps and got to learn storytelling through both writing and photography. Several Detroit schools helped us pass along the application, but it was during the height of the pandemic when students were all learning from home so we're hoping we'll be able to reach more students next summer.


Model D: What are your thoughts on types of stories and photos the students produced and the potential talent of the students?

Steinberg: I am completely blown away by the photos the students captured and the stories they wrote. Most of the students had never taken photos with a professional camera. They all received Canons to take photos at home and during the photo walks thanks to a grant we received from the Fisher Foundation. I'm truly so impressed that they picked up photography concepts like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in just two weeks. They weren't just snapping photos. They were following the rule of thirds, considering lighting, and shooting with purpose. Their photos reflect that.


[Related: Check out a photo essay of some selected works by the students]


The students in our journalism camp also impressed me and all the coaches. We told the students they could write about any topic they'd like. The stories they pursued ranged from the impact of COVID-19 on elder care abuse and what it's like for young photographers documenting Black Likes Matter protests to how the pandemic is affecting recruiting for high school athletes. The students got to learn from over a dozen journalists over two weeks and took all their tips and advice to heart when writing their stories. I couldn't be more proud of the stories they produced. Their articles captured history and what it was like to live through the summer of 2020, from a teen's perspective.


[Related: Read the story on covering Black Lives Matter protests here and an article on Detroit’s revitalization here]


Model D: What surprised you during the camps?

Steinberg: I was a little unsure if we'd be able to connect with the students on Zoom in the same way that you can connect with someone in person, but I was wrong. By the end of each camp, I felt like our coaches really got to know each student — their personalities, aspirations for the future and more. This was my first experience working with high school students, and I realized that they really care about the world around them and want to help their communities any way they can — whether it's writing about a local business and how it's coping with the pandemic or using their words to encourage people to vote, even if they are not yet old enough to cast a ballot. These students inspired me and reassured me that our media outlets are in very good hands if they decide to pursue a career in journalism or photography. But whatever they decide to pursue, I'm confident this next generation is going to take care of our communities and make the world better than it is today.


Model D: What's next for Coaching Detroit Forward?

Steinberg: We want to offer the summer photography and journalism camps again next summer. And hopefully, we'll be able to do those all in person. In the meantime, we have opportunities for Detroit students to attend free virtual workshops like, Don't Fear the College Essay, where they'll learn tips for writing college application essays. We also have a meditation series this month that Detroit students are welcome to participate in. The goal is to teach them techniques that can help them reduce stress and anxiety. We'll have more virtual workshops and experiences in the coming months so students should check out coachingdetroitforward.org/events for the latest updates!

All of the students’ work can be found on Coaching Detroit Forward’s website.



Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.
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