Teens from Detroit, around the country document life in summer 2020 through Coaching Detroit Forward


What was it like to experience summer 2020 from the perspective of a teenager? For Detroit Writing Room founder Stephanie Steinberg, the photos and stories produced by her first cohort of Coaching Detroit Forward’s summer journalism camps are spot on.

Steinberg opened the Detroit Writing Room in downtown Detroit in June 2019, bringing together professional writing, photo and design coaches (Disclosure: Model D Editor-in-Chief Dorothy Hernandez is a coach in the Detroit Writing Room and was a coach during the summer journalism camps) and people, who seek help with their creative projects and activities.

Stephanie Steinberg, Founder of the Detroit Writing Room and Coaching Detroit Forward

“The coaches are some of the best journalists, writers, photographers, and creatives in town, and I wanted Detroit students to learn from them and get mentors,” Steinberg says. She founded the Coaching Detroit Forward nonprofit branch to offer free summer camps, afterschool programs, and other workshops led by coaches and other professionals who want to get involved.

The original plan was to host Detroit students this summer in the Detroit Writing Room, where attendees would learn in person from local and national award-winning journalists such as Anna Clark, Ashley Woods Branch, and Bill Vlasic, but then the pandemic forced Steinberg to change their plans . Steinberg added students from Texas and Maryland to the program’s reach. She was able to offer the Camp Detroit students free of charge through scholarships. Steinberg spoke to us about how she spun and connected with teenagers through Zoom at a time when everyone is feeling the fatigue and how she was blown away by student work.

Model D: Their original vision was to have all students in Detroit, and the pandemic has obviously influenced that. How else could you serve Detroit students? How many Detroit students have you been able to teach? How did you recruit them?

Stephanie Steinberg: The original plan was to host our journalism and photography summer camps in the Detroit Writing Room. We mainly had to turn the camps on zoom and offer them. However, we still had two or three students taking photo walks around town with our photo coaches. They really enjoyed taking pictures of famous Detroit locations like the Ren Cen or DIA. Fifteen Detroit students attended between our photography and journalism camps. Some of them attended both camps and learned storytelling through both writing and photography. Several Detroit schools helped us forward the application, but it was at the height of the pandemic when all students were studying from home. We hope to be able to reach more students next summer.

Model D: What do you think of the types of stories and photos the students produced and the students’ potential talent?

Steinberg: I am absolutely delighted with the photos the students took and the stories they wrote. Most of the students had never photographed with a professional camera. They all received canons to take photos at home and during the photo walks, thanks to a grant we received from the Fisher Foundation. I’m really so impressed that they picked up photo concepts like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in just two weeks. They didn’t just take photos. They followed the rule of thirds, looked at the lights, and shot on purpose. Your photos reflect that.

[Related: Check out a photo essay of some selected works by the students]

The students in our journalist camp impressed me and all of the trainers. We told the students they could write on any topic they wanted. The stories they followed ranged from the impact of COVID-19 on elderly care abuse and what it’s like for young photographers documenting protests against Black Likes Matter, to the impact the pandemic has on high school recruitment Athletes. Students studied from over a dozen journalists for over two weeks, taking all of their tips and advice to heart as they wrote their stories. I couldn’t be more proud of the stories they produced. Her articles caught the story and what it was like to experience summer 2020 from a teen’s perspective.

[Related: Read the story on covering Black Lives Matter protests here and an article on Detroit’s revitalization here]

Model D: What surprised you during the camps?

Steinberg: I was a little unsure if we could connect with the students at Zoom the same way you can connect with someone in person, but I was wrong. At the end of each camp, I had the feeling that our trainers really got to know each student – their personality, their pursuit of the future and much more. This was my first experience working with students and I realized that they really care about the world around them and want to help their communities in any way they can – whether it’s a local business and how about that Bypassing the pandemic or using its words to encourage people to vote, even if they are not old enough to cast a vote. These students inspired me and assured me that our media are in very good hands when they choose a career in journalism or photography. But whatever they choose, I am confident that this next generation will take care of our communities and make the world better than it is today.

Model D: What’s Next With Detroit Forward Coaching?

Steinberg: We want to offer the summer camps for photography and journalism again next summer. And hopefully we can do it all personally. In the meantime, Detroit students have the opportunity to take part in free virtual workshops like Don’t Fear the College Essay, which provide tips on how to write college application papers. We also have a series of meditations this month for Detroit students to attend. The aim is to teach them techniques that can help them reduce stress and anxiety. We’ll have more virtual workshops and experiences in the coming months, so students should check out for the latest updates!

All student work can be found on the Coaching Detroit Forward website.


Dusty Kennedy