THE BLOG
02/24/2016 03:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Scholastic Journalism Matters

2016-02-22-1456182106-7116133-COLORVECTORFAUNCEFINAL2.jpg

This article originally ran on the Education Week Teacher blog.

I spent the majority of my senior year of high school holed up in a long rectangular room on the fifth floor of my school. It had one window, a few worktables, a wall covered in bulletin boards, a tiny blue couch that everyone fought over, and one computer where I learned to lay out pages on PageMaker.

It was 1993, and these were the headquarters for Scope, our monthly school newspaper. I was a co-editor-in-chief, responsible for managing a staff of 15, writing an editorial a month, designing pages, and editing content.

Now, as a journalism teacher and adviser, I look back on these cramped digs and wonder how we managed to produce anything. Journalism has changed. The students in the journalism programs at my school -- and in programs throughout the country -- produce a daily news website, a biweekly news show, and a yearbook. My students are tweeting breaking news, posting links to Facebook, and snapping shots during a basketball game that are immediately shared on Instagram.

So much has changed (continues to change) in journalism, but one thing hasn't: the benefits of studying it.

This week (Feb. 21-27), high schools and middle schools throughout the nation are participating Scholastic Journalism Week to showcase these benefits and celebrate what scholastic journalism represents: pedagogy, advocacy, innovation, community and excellence, according to President of the Journalism Education association Mark Newton.

"Typically, journalists work behind the scenes chronicling the stories of their communities," Newton said. "Scholastic Journalism Week is wonderful opportunity to celebrate what they do, how they do and why they do it. I love the opportunity to take a breath and honor the incredible efforts of our members, their programs and their students. What journalism teachers and student media advisers and their students do matters, and SJW affords us the chance to recognize, celebrate and honor that."

The theme of this year's SJW is "The Stories We Tell." SJW chair Adam Dawkins said JEA wanted to highlight how student media across the country affect their communities in powerful ways just like professional journalists do.

"It's so easy to get so busy and caught up in our own little bubbles, and I think it's inspiring for student media staffs to see the great work their counterparts are producing," he said. "It validates and motivates staffs to continue the pursuit of truth and the celebration of voices in their communities. Because it's hard work being a student journalist. These students go above and beyond. Scholastic Journalism Week is our chance to shine a spotlight on them and say, ' hey, look what these great young people are doing.'"

Established in 1991, SJW flips scholastic journalism on its head; in other words, we turn the cameras on ourselves. We spread the word: What we do matters.

Just ask our former students.

"Without high school journalism I would be nowhere," said Michael Geheren, a media and journalism major at the University of South Dakota. "It gave me an excellent scholarship and a strong foundation. I went into my college with stronger skills than my fellow students. It also taught me excellent life skills, from workplace politics to strong leadership."

Geheren, who attended Huntley High School in Huntley, Illinois, said taking journalism classes was the best decision of his life. "Those classes and the newspaper helped me find my true passion," he said. "Without high school journalism or my advisor, Mr. Brown, I probably would be lost."

Students who are not majoring in journalism laud the benefits of working for their high school publications as well.

One of my former students, Ivana Kosir, who attends the University of Michigan as a sophomore studying industrial and operations engineering, said she can root almost every important life skill back to her time working for the online news website at our school, Niles West News.

Kosir said, of course, she learned how to write professionally, however, the most beneficial skills that she learned in the newsroom were her interpersonal skills that ultimately led to better character development.

"Conducting interviews, managing a large staff, and meeting my own deadlines forced me to become a more responsible, reliable, and confident person," she said. "These are not just journalism skills; these are life skills that can be applied to any part of my life, and I'm grateful to have practiced and developed them at the NWN."

In my own education, I can attribute much of my success in life to my high school journalism teacher. Mrs. Baron taught me how to meet deadlines, how to write succinctly and persuasively, how to lead a team, and -- more specifically -- how to use the word "clad" in a sentence.
Despite what you may have heard, journalism is still relevant.

In fact, with the advent of the Common Core Standards, it's more relevant than ever before.

JEA Vice President Sarah Nichols explains."The Common Core standards are embedded in every aspect of scholastic media," she said. "Students serve as objective, skilled interviewers and active listeners. They research, reflect and revise constantly. In their roles as media producers, students implement the writing process to plan, produce, revise and edit work -- all for an authentic audience, using a variety of platforms, operating within a budget and on deadline. The emphasis on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking as students find new ways to deliver meaningful content develops skills that make journalism students the best prepared for any college or career opportunity."

Even though journalism prepares students for the future, even though journalism embodies the essence of the Common Core, scholastic journalism is still being attacked.

Programs are being cut. School boards and administrators are censoring student work, undermining their first-amendment rights.

Students are left dealing with the brunt of the aftermath as journalism teachers and advisers are being removed or repositioned.

It is salient that as educators we recognize the value of scholastic journalism programs in our schools. Help us fight for them. Help us recognize them. And - if so needed -- help us reestablish them.

Because scholastic journalism matters.

To see the work of scholastic journalists throughout the country, please follow @ScholasticJWeek and check out #SJW2016 on Twitter. The logo at the top of this piece was designed by James Faunce, a senior at Malvern Preparatory School.