Jo Napolitano was one of only four journalists selected from across the globe as a Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University for the Class of 2017.

During the course of the program, she took a year’s worth of master’s level classes at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Teachers College and School of International and Public affairs, with the goal of writing a massive story or book on the education of immigrant and refugee children in the United States.

It is a defining interest of hers: Napolitano was born in Bogota, Colombia, abandoned at a bus stop a day later and placed in an orphanage. Badly malnourished, she was eventually adopted and given the chance to attend a solid public school on Long Island before earning a nearly full ride to Northwestern University. She believes no child’s life should be left to chance.

Her project will be the culmination of nearly two decades of reporting on public schools. Prior to the fellowship, Napolitano was hired by Newsday in 2010 as a senior writer covering education and special projects. In addition to penning national trend pieces on tough, new academic standards, she covered numerous high-profile cheating scandals and the refusal of one school district to enroll unaccompanied minors. Her work helped inspire a state-wide crackdown on schools’ refusal to admit these students.

In addition, she wrote several lengthy explanatory pieces on climate change and infrastructure after Hurricane Sandy. Her last such long-form story for Newsday focused on the lives of three opioid addicts who had been repeatedly saved by Narcan. 

Before Newsday, Napolitano spent nearly five years as a staff reporter for the Chicago Tribune, covering crime, education and breaking news, writing about everything from school shootings to Ponzi schemes to the shame surrounding two jailed governors. Her coverage of two high-profile missing women led to several appearances on MSNBC, FOX and CNN.

Napolitano also spent more than two years at The New York Times’ Chicago Bureau, where she chronicled a soon-to-be incarcerated governor’s dismantling of the death penalty while writing numerous features for the culture, sports and business sections of the paper.

She lives in Brooklyn.