Southwest junior has a passion for journalism

Southwest High School student Sophia Schach practices reading the news during a session of the TV Broadcast Camp put on by the ThreeSixty Journalism program at the University of St. Thomas. Photo by Zac Farber

Sophia Schach, a rising junior at Southwest High School, had the chance this summer to chat on camera with Sunisa Lee — a world-class, 16-year-old St. Paul gymnast — and then to edit the interview into a two-minute-long TV news-style video, complete with professionally shot b-roll.

“Suni would be the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast and knows many are following her journey,” Schach said in a voiceover for the video. She questioned Lee about her motivation to compete and asked, “What moment did you feel like, ‘Wow, I’m actually doing this?’” 

Afterward, Schach promised to give Lee one of the silk-lined, bedazzled hoodies she sews for her friends.

The interview was part of the weeklong TV Broadcast Camp that Schach attended this July through the ThreeSixty Journalism program at the University of St. Thomas. 

Her participation in the camp was a continuation of a longstanding interest in the journalistic process.

“I really like telling stories, learning and then writing about what you learn,” said Schach, who believes that journalism and activism “need to be hand in hand.” “The writers and communicators and everyone who’s involved in the news are the voice of the people who aren’t always represented.” 

Last summer, Schach was encouraged to apply for ThreeSixty’s News Reporter Academy by KARE 11 reporter Lindsey Seavert, who lives next door to Schach in Fulton.

“She’s a great listener with a natural kindness about her,” Seavert said. “She has a quiet confidence and ambition. She kind of reminds me of myself at that age.” 

ThreeSixty Associate Director Bao Vang said Schach, who is half Vietnamese, was one of the academy’s standout stars.

“She was so well-articulated and had expressed her interest as a person of color to tell stories,” Vang said. “I remember how smart she sounded. I know and can identify students who have the chops.”

In the academy, Schach learned about virtual reality, photography and the nuts and bolts of news reporting, and she wrote a 650-word story about an effort by members of the Lower Sioux Indian Community to reclaim and reintroduce sacred tobacco into their lives. That story was published in the Pioneer Press.

“I remember the date: Sept. 1, 2018,” Schach said. “It was really exciting. There was something about the material of the paper where it was like, ‘Wow, that’s my words on that paper.’”

During the 2018–19 school year, Schach attended a number of full-day ThreeSixty Learning Lab sessions on writing essentials, broadcasting basics and detecting fake news.

“It’s easier to tell if it’s fake news on paper because a lot of stuff that’s printed has to go through checking,” Schach said. “Online, anyone can post something to make it seem like something else.”

When she returns to school this fall, Schach plans to revive the print version of the Southwest Anchor, the student newspaper. 

There hasn’t been a journalism class at Southwest High School for about nine years and there hasn’t been funding for a print paper for about seven, said Wendy Brown, who advised the paper until around 2012. Last year, a weekly TV announcement was the only student-produced news programming.

“The cost of the publishing isn’t exorbitant, but administrators ask, ‘If we can do it online, why do we need a hard copy?’” said Robert Rees, a Southwest English teacher who has informally advised students interested in starting a paper. “I think anybody who’s worked as a journalist knows that a hard copy is invaluable. A newspaper contributes to the identity of a school if it’s well done.”

A school spokesperson said she did not know whether a print paper will be funded this September, but Schach said she is hoping to start a double-sided, tabloid-size newssheet. 

She thinks students would stay after school for 45 minutes once per week to work on the paper. “I try not to say an hour because it’s high schoolers, and they don’t want to be at school for more time than they have to be,” she said.

Her dream is of a paper that covers sports and events and interviews teachers and “students of different ethnic backgrounds.” She’d like to land an interview with Southwest’s new principal, Valerie Littles-Butler, and to write about the Gender Sexuality Alliance’s fight for functional gender-neutral bathrooms. “There are three gender-neutral bathrooms,” she said, “but they’re often locked because people misuse them — people smoke weed in the bathrooms.”

Schach said she wants to put out a paper her school can take pride in.

“I want there to be a day people know it’s coming out and we have it by the doors and hand it out to classrooms — like a newspaper you’d see on the street,” she said.