By Harold Goldberg
It’s been many years in the making. But yesterday in a spacious, new classroom in the Bronx, the New York Videogame Critics Circle and The DreamYard Project began a daily journalism course for underserved high school students. The DreamYard created this artful, warm temporary space while a larger Bronx game center is being built. The Critics Circle provides a journalist mentor and collaborates on the curriculum while overseeing speakers and trips.
This is a giant next step forward in what has been a first of its kind partnership for our non-profit organization. It all began in 2012 when Catharine Soros, now our board secretary, suggested that senior editor Helen Pfeffer and I travel to the Bronx to work with students at the DreamYard Prep School during a career day. Months later, we helped students write their college essays. These were life changing moments that led me to suggest to all Critics Circle members that we mentor these students with an after school program that could teach students games journalism and games narrative.
Tim Lord, The DreamYard’s co-creator, introduced me to the energetic Rudy Blanco, who was exactly the educator we needed to help create a plan for long-term mentoring, paid internships and scholarships. It’s an understatement to say that Rudy got it. He immediately understood that the study of games and journalism could provide worthy, diverse pathways to success for smart, underserved kids in the poorest Congressional district in the United States. As our program grew to include both games journalism and games narrative study, Rudy became the DreamYard’s director of entrepreneurship programs. And he had a big idea.
Last summer, Tom’s Guide’s Sherri Smith, one of our core members, and I met with Rudy. Rudy talked excitedly about spearheading a program now called BX Start. It would prepare high school students for careers in the games industry. The New York Videogame Critics Circle’s journalism mentoring work is a central feature of this program.
Yesterday, it all came together in a way that would amaze anyone who appreciates the results of artful creativity and hard work. Rudy had the walls painted with a game theme featuring old school controllers and other game-oriented themes. Sony’s donated PlayStations were heating up that morning, and so was Nintendo’s donated Switch. The students were ready to go. One came up and asked impatiently, “When are we going to write?” That sort of question is music to our ears.
Imad Khan, a Circle member who’s worked for The Washington Post and ESPN, is our thoughtful journalism mentor and Stefanelli Romano, is our ardent educator from the Bronx High School of Business. We have 25 eager students from three schools with us – and they’re going to learn so much. We’re all going to work hard to make this program a great success, one that can be scaled to work in other schools throughout the city as well.
A Bowser-sized thanks to Rudy Blanco, Stefanelli Romano, Imad Khan and all the students we’ll mentor during our summer program. What’s next? Stay tuned!
Journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and The New York Game Awards.