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Chicago high school students cover mayoral election using data journalism

Medill, Scholastic Press Association of Chicago provide guidance to highlight student concerns around mental health, safety

Purple ballot box with the word "vote" on it with a magnifying glass looking down on it.
The survey was distributed electronically and students collected about 1,300 responses from 12 schools across the city.

CHICAGO -- Improving mental health for young people is the most pressing issue for Chicago’s mayor, according to a survey of high school students conducted with guidance by the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, which falls under Medill’s Teach for Chicago Journalism program.

The survey was part of a civic data journalism project developed by student journalists from 12 Chicago schools. The students received training on creating the survey and analyzing the results from faculty members at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

Medill Professor and Associate Dean of Research Stephanie Edgerly led student journalists through a workshop on how to best develop their questions.

“What is great about this project is that it amplifies the voices of Chicago teens, while also providing student journalists with the opportunity to collect and analyze survey data,” said Edgerly.

Medill Lecturer Fernando Diaz also led students in a workshop on analyzing the data they collected.

The survey included questions for students about school and neighborhood safety, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and mental health issues, among others. It was distributed electronically and students collected about 1,300 responses from 12 schools across the city.

Students then used the data to write stories—most of which focused on the topics of safety (both in and out of school) and student mental health.

The student journalists said they learned new skills to improve their school publications.

“Surveys are definitely something that we want to use more in the future, because they provide a really different kind of data from what we usually get,” said Karen, a student journalist from Jones College Prep’s Blueprint. “This project made me realize how useful it is to have wider-scale quantitative data to go along with and reinforce the more qualitative information we get from interviews.”

Other student publications also wrote stories on the survey. Two stories from the Lane Tech Champion included quotes from Chicago mayoral candidates who participated in a youth forum. Latin High School’s The Forum published stories on school safety. A story in the Whitney Young Beacon focused on the development of mental health resources at the school. Additional schools also posted stories:

Other schools, including Northside College Prep, Mather, Pritzker College Prep and Taft will publish stories based on the results soon.

“We are excited to give students more opportunities to engage with local journalism, by seeing how it can connect issues in their local school communities to that of the larger Chicago student body,” said Teach for Chicago Journalism Director, Michael Spikes.