It Takes A Village To Tell A Story
This story is the result of a collaboration among many people and institutions including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Nine Network, the Maxine Clark and Bob Fox Family Foundation, the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis and more than 75 individual donors - St. Louisans and others interested in education policy. It began in 1999, when Richard H. Weiss (left), then a Post-Dispatch editor, and photographer J.B. Forbes (right) started following the work of developer Richard Baron, who was forging a multi-million dollar civic effort to improve the outcomes at Jefferson School, just a mile west of downtown St. Louis. In 2000, the Post-Dispatch published a four-part series on the project called A Better Place to Grow Up. It focused on a gaggle of fifth graders at Jefferson under the tutelage of Mary Spencer, who had served her entire teaching career at Jefferson.
Fast forward 12 years, Weiss got a call from Evita Caldwell. "You may not remember me, Mr. Weiss, but I was in the fifth grade class you wrote about..." Evita had gone on to graduate second in her class at Vashon, then completed a commuications degree at Saint Louis University. Despite doing everything right, Evita was having difficulty getting a start in journalism.
The two put their heads together and came up with an idea. Together they would do a followup to A Better Place To Grow Up, first to learn whether Evita's fellow students had benefited from Baron's initiative, but also for Evita to prove her mettle as a journalist. Evita would write the story; Weiss would edit and provide guidance. The Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis American agreed to print Evita's account, and later the Nine Network began work on a documentary about the quest as part of its American Graduate project.
The new story -- called All Grown Up -- is coming to fruition in June, 2015, almost exactly 15 years since the originial series was published. The Post-Dispatch's version of the story will appear on Sunday, June 7. The St. Louis American is printing a special tabloid section on Thursday, June 11. The NIne Network's doucmentary is expected to be ready for the fall.
Evita's reporting took nearly two years, along the way she landed a job at St. Louis Public Radio as an online producer.
From left, Richard Weiss, Evita Caldwell and J.B. Forbes