Students write at the USC Kids News workshop held on the University Park Campus on Saturday. (Photo/David Sprague)

Social Impact

USC Kids News workshop brings out the fun in writing

The workshop returns to the USC University Park Campus, connecting elementary students with mentors, educators and leaders from the university.

February 09, 2023 Sa?l Garc?a

The skies were as bright as the smiles on the faces of more than 250 elementary school students visiting the University Park Campus for the annual USC Kids News: Arts and Writing workshop produced by the nonprofit PressFriends.

USC Kids News workshop: student have questions for dance students
Eager students ask questions of USC Kaufman dance students. (Photo/David Sprague)

“Today, you’re all going to be reporters and journalists,” Oscar Garza, director of USC Arts Journalism Graduate Program at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told the crowd of youngsters from the neighborhoods around the campus as Saturday’s event began.

PressFriends — founded by sister and brother Tessa Chan Southwell and Luke Southwell-Chan in 2008 when they were in elementary school — is designed to build children’s writing skills and self-esteem. With the help of volunteers from local high schools, the after-school program has mentored over 6,000 kids in third to fifth grade.

USC Kids News workshop: USC Kaufman student dancers
USC Kaufman students keep the youngsters entertained. (Photo/David Sprague)

“It is a great way to expose young people to all the different educational and career pathways they can get involved in,” said Tessa Chan Southwell, acknowledging that the program also helps close the gap for many students who lack writing skills.

The program made its way to USC in the fall 2014 when Luke Southwell-Chan enrolled as a freshman. PressFriends quickly integrated its mentorship program into James A. Foshay Learning Center and John Mack Elementary School, both part of the USC Family of Schools.

Along with improving the writing skills of the program’s participants, PressFriends helps each school publish a biannual newspaper — the Foshay Flash and the Mack Squad News. Student stories are curated, edited and published, giving the young writers tangible proof their work is being recognized.

PressFriends, which is supported by the USC Good Neighbors Campaign, also brings students to campus for the annual USC Kids News writing workshop, an immersive experience where they learn from USC students, leaders and educators.

“Knowing that this wonderful school is in their backyard and it is an option for them is very, very important,” said Silvia Ruiz, a third-grade teacher at John Mack Elementary. She noted that even though USC is within walking distance of her school, many students have never been to the campus.

The return of the annual workshop was a collaborative effort with USC Annenberg, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the USC Kaufman School of Dance and the USC Roski School of Art and Design.

“There are some important connections between writing and dance,” USC Kaufman Dean Julia Ritter said. “It is a perfect opportunity to get the students that are attending a chance to be in their bodies and use that kinesthetic experience to inform their writing.”

Children were guided through a variety of workshops led by the schools that touched on newswriting, screenwriting, dance, art and design.

“Bringing all these people together, it makes it such a powerful event,” Tessa Chan Southwell said. “It’s about making writing fun.”

USC Kids News workshop: Student watches dancers
An excited student watches as USC Kaufman students describe their moves. (Photo/David Sprague)