During the partial federal government shutdown earlier this winter, WGBH News received a tweet from a local educator. “How do I explain the #GovernmentShutdown to fourth graders?” asked Jacob Anderson, a paraeducator in Angela Dailey's fourth grade classroom at the Woodsdale Elementary School in Abington, MA. “The teacher and I are struggling with all the questions our students have.”
Within hours of receiving the tweet, WGBH News invited the students to send some of their questions. The children compiled a list of queries that touched on issues ranging from school lunches to national safety during the shutdown. They wanted to know “Why did the government shut down?” and “Why doesn’t the government have enough money?” The students also asked, “Are school lunches affected by the government shutdown?” and “What if a war happens during the shutdown? Will we be safe?”
Lisa Williams, WGBH News Audience Engagement Editor, marshaled the resources of the newsroom to answer these questions, working with several reporters on a feature story for WGBHNews.org.
A few weeks later, the fourth graders took a field trip to the WGBH newsroom at our headquarters in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood. During their time in the newsroom, students met with Williams, editors Paul Singer and Laura Colarusso, and reporters Craig LeMoult, Molly Boigon and Esteban Bustillos for a conversation about careers in journalism. They also took a tour of our television and radio studios, explored the set of Sing that Thing! and visited All Things Considered host Barbara Howard as she recorded promos for her afternoon show. While the kids didn’t get to hear their government shutdown story on 89.7 WGBH, since the shutdown ended just hours before it aired, they got to listen to a playback of the shelved story in-studio with Howard.
For Williams, the experience transcended the usual digital metrics of clicks and likes. “What I loved about this project was that we opened up an even deeper dialogue with the class,” she said. “Public media has a responsibility to educate and inspire its audiences. It’s just as important to further this mission with a group of fourth grade students as with any other audience we reach.”
Follow @WGBHNews on Twitter for breaking news and updates about the #GovernmentShutdown and more.