Ground Zero is my home…

Blame it on Sixty Minutes – the label stuck. Stockton is Ground Zero in the US real estate meltdown. More specifically, zip code 95210. That’s my school – my kids.

So what better way to get them into working on a news story than making personal. When I first introduced the concept, most of the class said, who cares. Until one of my quiet sophomores spoke up and said he might be losing his home. Silence.

Then a little bit of talk about…maybe we all know someone who might be losing or have lost their home.

Thus began the assignment. With an idea.

This past Thursday I got them into the terminology of the story. Mortgages. Interest rates. Prime and sub prime. Borrower, lender, equity. Their questions revealed both their interest and lack of knowledge of real estate transactions – and this was what I fully expected. How many of YOU knew it all at ages 15-17?

Thanks to this site I was able to get some good solid information to prep the students.

Then it was off to Google Land to find and print images of homes…from the high and mighty to trailer trash. I wrote three years/prices on each photo. Year 2000 and an estimated price for the real estate; year 2004 and a high price for the real estate; year 2008 and a very low price reflecting the decline in real estate prices.

We drew names and each student got to choose a piece of property. Then they each drew a purchase year. The lucky ones got the 2000 price. The unlucky ones drew the 2004 price. They then compared their purchase price with the estimated current price.

My point: I wanted them to understand how random this could be. Told them that some folks were speculating (had to explain yet another term) and flipping houses for profit, while many homes were bought by people who just wanted a home. Nobody knew a collapse was coming.

They get it now – or at least the basics.

The rest of the assignment will take place over the next few weeks. This past week and over this weekend I sent cameras home with each student with instructions to shoot homes in their neighborhood, focusing on homes for sale if possible. Five minutes of video (variety of shots; each at least ten seconds long) or 20 still shots. This is our pool of raw cover video.

Sidebar: after the first group of students sallied forth into their neighborhoods and returned to class the next day, we had an impromptu lesson on media rights. One student who lives in a fairly nice, close-knit neighborhood where everyone knows each other, was threatened and told NOT to shoot pictures of the neighborhood. Apparent fear of break-ins by the adults. So I got to explain media rights – they cannot prevent you from shooting if you are on public property. And then common sense. Don’t argue at your age – walk off. It isn’t worth the trouble. What I might do as a professional does not apply to you as a student – especially for a simple assignment like this.

This coming week we will have speakers. The San Joaquin Board of Realtors is sending a speaker for a “press conference” on Thursday. The students will learn press conference protocol Monday so they can properly question their guest.

Former KOVR reporter Craig Prosser will visit later in the week and discuss how to cover a story like this (I had him slotted for Monday, but he had to bail).

Friday the McNair counseling department will send a counselor to discuss how traumatic this might be to students as well as how it affects the school itself. We’ve lost several hundred students who have been forced to move because they lost their homes…and this dominos into losing staff.

Final piece of the puzzle – each student will find and interview a student on campus on the topic.

Then it is on to logging, scripting, and editing.

I honestly wish I could post examples of student work on the blog – but like many educators, my hands are tied by a very restrictive district policy regarding student work on the Internet.

One thought on “Ground Zero is my home…

  1. This sounds like an excellent assignment. I would love to do something similar, but it won’t work with my kids whose parents rent, nor are their neighborhoods deteriorating any worse than before. We have a school a few miles to the east where this would be a perfect assignment as the neighborhoods are littered with vacant houses.

    I am thinking of doing something with the job market as we are really hurting in that area.

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