Outside Capital Newspapers I ran into Darlinne Kambwa. Confident, professional, the UW-Madison journalism major was on her way to last night's reception for the Simpson Street Free Press, the local youth newspaper that, last November in Washington, D.C., received a Coming Up Taller Award from first lady Laura Bush.
Darlinne was not wearing a winter coat.
I taught Darlinne and edited her writing when I worked at the Free Press some years back. She was one of many teens I took to museums and cultural sites around the state as I shared what I know about researching stories and writing good copy. It was uplifting work. I was regularly awed by the young reporters' curiosity and dedication.
I also was regularly awed by the fact that like teenagers everywhere, Simpson Street Free Press staffers had to be harangued into wearing winter coats, even on the coldest days of January.
So it was like old times running into Darlinne, who also distinguished herself as an intern here at Isthmus, and last fall filed smart dispatches about the campus McCain and Obama campaigns for us. I saw many former students last night, in fact, and I had to keep biting my tongue in order not to say, "My, how you've grown," or words to that effect. Kids hate that.
But my, how they've grown. It's an emotional thing, watching young kids become young adults, and the emotion was palpable last night as journalists, educators and community leaders feted the Free Press. "I think it was richly deserved," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin of the Coming Up Taller Award, which honors the program's success in improving the academic skills of its students, many of them from lower-income neighborhoods.
Baldwin praised the young reporters' skills. Meeting with them for interviews, she said drily in the building that houses the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times, "I find they've been more prepared than some people who've been in the business a lot longer."
Testimonials were given by current and former Simpson Street Free Press reporters, including Darlinne Kambwa and Free Press editor Andrea Gilmore. Then Simpson Street staffers presented the William T. Evjue Award for Youth Journalism to Tom Still and Phil Haslanger for their work establishing the Summer Media Institute. Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, was an associate editor with the Wisconsin State Journal; Haslanger, a United Church of Christ pastor, was managing editor of The Capital Times.
Simpson Street Free Press executive director Jim Kramer grew hoarse as he gave concluding remarks. "The kids have learned to write and think," he said.
After the event I spoke with Rep. Baldwin, who again praised the Simpson Street Free Press staffers for their efforts. Then she stepped into the cold. She was wearing a winter coat.