Teaching students their voice matters, one story at a time
High school journalism programs combine real-world skills, collaboration and communication.
Ray Salazar revived a journalism class at Hancock College Preparatory High School in Chicago — walking students through the reporter’s skill sets of research, verifying and interviewing — not only because he believes it’s important for students to use their voice, but also because it pulls them out of their own frame of reference.
That first year, the school put out three issues. Now each class manages to run seven to eight print editions a year.
Salazar, who blogs at White Rhino about education and Latino issues says journalism is the perfect vehicle for teaching students to see multiple sides of an issue.
“Without a school newspaper, I think schools lose out on the opportunity to share students' perspective, and engage them in conversations that mean something to them,” Salazar said in an interview. “Students think about what a school community knows about a topic, what matters to them, and then they have to capture multiple perspectives about different issues.”
Public attitudes may be polarized around journalists and news organizations, but high school journalists are learning that they have a voice — whether that’s standing up on national issues like gun violence, or protecting their right to publish.
Editor in chief
Two editorials scheduled to run during the 2017-2018 school year in the Eagle Nation Online, the newspaper for Prosper High School in Texas, were pulled by the principal, who also dismissed the paper’s school advisor.
The case has drawn national headlines‚ including condemnation from the Student Press Law Center. But student-run newspapers don’t always have the same rights as those run by professional publishers, as schools essentially serve as publishers and can edit, to some extent, coverage, according to the U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.
That’s why journalism programs, of course, need a champion, along with advisors who can guide students on how to craft ethical stories, while serving as a liaison between the student journalists and the school’s administration. As Jim Jordan, who served for 35 years as yearbook advisor at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, Calif., said in an interview, it takes a “supportive administrator to give students that power.”
Administrators also have to think about budgets for student journalism programs. As newspapers around the country shift from expensive print editions to online, so too are school programs. Salazar gets about $4,000 a year to produce 1,000 copies of the eight-page newsletter every month. But online publications can be even more affordable, as blog sites from Medium to Blogger, WordPress to Wix, offer publishing options for free.
Even with a dedicated teacher, though, schools sometimes have a hard time finding students eager to grab a reporter’s pad. At Burges High School in El Paso, Texas, previously nominated for a Silver Crown Award and a Pacemaker Award for its yearbook publication, teacher Patricia Monroe said in an interview that journalism electives have to vie for student time against classes that may give them early college credit.
Courage to launch
That sentiment is echoed by Jeannette Acton, director of the Interscholastic League Press Conference Director, who has heard similar stories from teachers she talks to as well. That’s why she champions the work coming from school newspapers and yearbooks, believing they’re the ultimate project-based learning experience a student can have.
Speaking on an panel a couple of years ago, Acton said people spoke about skills educators hope students adopt before leaving school.
“They wanted them to be able to communicate well, be able to write, manage their own work and deadlines, and have technology skills,” she said in an interview. “I looked at them then and said, ‘I have a class for you.’”
Journalism also sends students off with real-world skills, including financial ones, based on how much space they can afford to give a story in print, noted National Scholastic Press Association’s Laura Widmer. There’s a difference between filing a story people in their school and local community will read — and an English paper turned in for an assignment. Students are charged with developing their own ideas, and standing up for the work they’ve produced, in a very public way.
As schools look for community partnerships and programs for students to explore during the academic year, a journalism program can bring a professional setting right into the classroom, giving them a taste of what the world will expect of them when they step outside the doors of high school and on to their next path.
Workplace skills include collaboration a with team, analytical thinking, communication, meeting deadlines, time management and prioritizing projects, Widmer wrote in an email. “Journalism is one of the few high school classes that simulates a work environment.”
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