They came to be known as “the missing” — students who disappeared from schools across the United States when the pandemic hit. They couldn’t keep up with online learning. They had to work. Some of them had parents who simply didn’t see the point of school. And they never came back to their classes.
Last fall, AP data journalist Sharon Lurye, working with partners at Big Local News, launched a first-ever effort to quantify these kids and show where they went — and what schools had and hadn’t done to track them down. The analysis pointed to hundreds of thousands of kids in 21 states and the District of Columbia who might not be involved with any kind of schooling.
But how to find them — and give them space to tell their stories? Education accountability reporter Bianca Vázquez Toness and AP visual journalists worked painstakingly to build trust with families of kids who had left school. Their efforts made sure the story could center on real children. A visually compelling immersive presentation by Eunice Esomonu, anchored by an illustration by Peter Hamlin of kids going missing from a class photo, framed and amplified the work. Atlanta video newsperson Sharon Johnson jumped in when a colleague got tied up to produce the video.
The story was designed to shift the national conversation. So, two weeks before publishing, AP shared data and reporting with 38 newsrooms in the areas most affected by the exodus — a key feature of the Education Reporting Network led by Chrissie Thompson. A dozen of those newsrooms used the data to write their own localized stories.
The story had 154,000 pageviews on AP News, making it the most-read since the new education team was launched last spring. The time on page was a whopping five minutes, and AP members accessed the story more than 1,500 times through Newsroom and Newswhip.
The day after the project ran, the dean of USC’s School of Education cited it as an example of the importance of education journalism. Other education professors weighed in similarly. And the project was named story of the week by The Grade, a widely read education blog. In the time since the story ran, the team has heard from teachers and advocates across the country. And on Thursday, AP shared all the data with its U.S. members via a Localize It guide; as a result, more reporters are doing stories with the data. The conversation was, indeed, shifted.
For revealing a piece of a lost generation and helping readers understand the pandemic from an entirely new angle, Lurye, Vázquez Toness, Esomonu, Hamlin and Johnson –with contributions from Los Angeles video newsperson Eugene Garcia, Los Angeles photographer Damian Dovarganes, freelancer Kathy Kmonicek and New York social media newsperson Elise Ryan, along with collaborators Thomas Dee of Stanford University and Justin Mayo of Big Local News -- share the Best of the Week Second Winner honors.
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