Thursday, July 28, 2005
Alejandra Nolasco’s first article for ShoutOut explored statutory rape. She was a sophomore at Watsonville High School at the time. Her subsequent stories covered topics like teen relationships, virginity and condom use.
Nolasco, who graduated in June and will attend UC Davis in the fall, says the content was controversial among parents—especially her parents.
“I come from a Latina family,” she says. “They used to not even touch the topic of sex.”
But, she says, “I knew my facts.”
“I knew that half of high school students were having sex, and half of those weren’t using condoms. I said, ‘Mom, this many pregnancies have occurred: 305 in Watsonville in 2003. And Chlamydia in Santa Cruz County, in 2003, there were 400 and something cases. And 41 percent of those were in Watsonville. I was telling my mom, sex is happening. Let’s be safe about it.”
ShoutOut is a free, quarterly newspaper written by and for Central Coast teens. Equal parts journalism and advocacy, it covers teen health issues, including sexuality, nutrition and drug use, as well as trends and current events, and provides a forum for young voices to speak out through articles, poems, photographs, and drawings.
It teaches teens that they do have a platform to express themselves, and it shows them that that writing can actually be fun. And, says Nolasco, it can turn young writers into student leaders.
“A lot of teens are excited to read it,” she says. “Mostly everybody waits for it. They actually learn from it, too. That’s how I got involved in teen advocacy.”
The group meets Wednesdays in Watsonville, but they’re working to expand their Monterey County distribution and talent. ShoutOut accepts submissions via e-mail, and currently distributes papers at 13 sites in Seaside and Salinas, including Seaside’s Postpone Project, the Cherry Bean Coffee House and KDON radio station.
Population Services International (PSI), a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce the rates of teen pregnancy, STDs and HIV in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, produces ShoutOut. PSI also publishes a “facilitators’ guide” for ShoutOut, designed to help teachers, counselors and teens lead classroom discussions on issues covered in the paper.
“We’re encouraging teachers to give extra credit to their students who write for ShoutOut,” says Nan Lewicky, a PSI project director. No experience is necessary, and most of the kids aren’t looking for a career in journalism, Lewicky says.
“Most of the kids are high-risk kids. They want to get off of the streets and have something to do, or they want to make friends. They see writing can be fun, and they gain a lot of self-esteem.”
The most recent issue includes a story about how state budget cuts are limiting the number of students who are able to attend summer school, a story about violent video games, an article titled, “I was a Teenage Gangster,” and another, “Eating Out: Avoiding a Super-Sized Belly.” There’s also a story about emergency contraception and one about sexual assault, and stories about health risks from smoking.
Christina Bustamante wrote the one about emergency contraception. She’s been writing for ShoutOut for about a year, and she’s published three articles, including one about teen girls who cut themselves.
A friend told her about the teen publication and Bustamante has always enjoyed writing, so she attended a Wednesday meeting. “It was fun and interesting, and you get to say what you want to say through writing.”
Now Bustamante, along with Juan Ruiz, is working on a story about MySpace.com that will be published in the September issue.
The ShoutOut offices include a conference room, where the teens brainstorm story ideas, play icebreaker games and enjoy snacks, and a computer lab, with six donated computers.
Leo Hernandez, who will be a junior at Watsonville High School in the fall, sits at a computer and works on a story about porn. “[It asks] is it right or wrong for teens to look at porn?” he explains. He is trying to land an interview with Adam Carolla, co-host of the radio show Loveline.
Adrian Ponce sits at the next monitor. He’s the youngest writer for the publication. Ponce will enter eighth grade at Rolling Hills Middle School in Watsonville in September. He’s writing a nutrition story. “Why don’t kids like vegetables?” he asks. Personally, he likes “some vegetables.” And he says he’s found some studies that show kids are hardwired not to eat the green stuff.
Both Ponce and Hernandez say they like ShoutOut’s unique voice, and the opportunity it gives them to publish their thoughts and words.
Perhaps Nolasco says it most succinctly.
“You speak out for what you believe in. That got my attention. It’s a great honor to put down on paper, through journalism, what you think.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SHOUTOUT, VISIT WWW.SHOUTOUTNEWS.ORG, OR CALL 722-9277.