12 November 2013

Hi-Spot Revamp

Over the past six years, Waverly’s student-run newspaper, the Hi-Spot, has had four different advisers. The high turnover of advisers has nothing to do with faculty incompetency, nor does it have to do with poor quality of student staffers.

Simply put, Hi-Spot has been caught in the middle of a perfect storm that has perpetuated the unfortunate rotation of leadership.

While the Hi-Spot has been--and still is--a quality student-run publication, the fact remains that the overall quality of the publication hasn’t reached its zenith; as its adviser, I knew that the staff was capable of the highest-caliber publication, but for some reason, we were unable to consistently achieve at the level I knew they were capable of.

The culprit for our staff’s inability to achieve greatness: a broken system that was focused on outmoded goals and outdated platforms.

Granted, I’m not an old timer (yet), but even a 27 year old is old enough to fall behind the whirlwind pace of media. The physical, ink-on-paper publications that I grew up reading and writing for are nearing extinction. Yet here I was, adviser to a staff filled with digital natives, and I was trying to push them to publishing a printed issue every two weeks instead of monthly. What a goose am I?!

It took over a year for me to develop the courage and conviction to look the staff in the eye and tell them: “You can be better, but I’m holding you back”.

Some of last year’s staffers that graduated are currently pursuing journalism degrees, and they are doing quite well for themselves. However, as I communicated with these alums about their college journalism experience, and after conversations with my college journalism professor, I was hit with the realization that I was, at best, doing a mediocre job of preparing Waverly’s journalism students for the professional world of media.

This painful--yet necessary--wake-up call was enough to prompt major changes. After a few weeks of discussions with Hi-Spot alums, the current staff, high school journalism advisers across the state and other trusted colleagues, the Waverly Hi-Spot was scrapped and the entire class and started from scratch.

Hi-Spot is a student-run publication. In order to honor this, the staff was asked to help recreate the newspaper from the ground up. After a few days of reviewing the very basic principles of journalism, the staff was challenged to come up with a mission statement that would fulfill these principles in a 21st century classroom, for a 21st century audience.

After much guidance and a great deal of teamwork, the staff and I were able to create an entirely new system that focuses on getting daily news out to our readership--which focuses primarily on the students of Waverly High School, followed closely by the faculty, parents, family and community members of District 145--via the platforms they are most accustomed to: digital, online media.

This week marks the rollout of our new system, which includes new writing requirements, grading, staff infrastructure, a focus on utilizing dominate art and inforgraphics as well as other digital tools such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, podcasts, Vine and Instagram, to name a few.

The Hi-Spot has launched a brand-new, user-friendly, visually-engaging website that we will use as our primary means of reporting the newsworthy events at District 145 for the remainder of the quarter.

While the changes occurring are stressful, painful and angst-inducing for all staff members, they have plodded forward, trusting that the changes will not only better serve the readership for which they write, but also challenge them in ways that will promote significant growth that will better prepare them for a career in journalism.

And if one were to stop and think about it, isn’t that the whole reason high school journalism exists?

Q2 & Beyond

The first semester of Intro to Journalism dealt a lot with the theory and concept of journalism. Why is journalism a necessity to a healthy, functioning democratic society? What makes a story truly newsworthy? What impact does journalism have on a society?

While these concepts are vital to any good journalist, they are not easy, nor are the most exciting ideas to grapple with.

The second semester of Intro to Journalism is focused on equipping students with the basic skills they need to successfully navigate the day-to-day life of a staffer for either the Hi-Spot newspaper staff or Viking Annual. Students are interviewing sources, writing news stories, features, sports stories, movie reviews and will soon start learning about and practicing photography, page design and publication.

For most students, these concepts are why they signed up for Intro to Journalism in the first place.

The last two weeks, students have worked on writing feature stories--a longer, more creative version of news writing. Hi-Spot writes several features a semester, and Viking Annual only writes feature stories, so this particular style is very important for each student.

The two sections have come up with great feature story ideas, ranging from background stories on local youth group events, to observing teachers, to visiting other schools for special events, to researching historical events. The junior staffers have gone above and beyond to get great story ideas, and they are working very hard to write quality stories.

As the class progresses through the last quarter of Intro, we are really focusing on getting students prepared for the next step. Intro JOU is a feeder class into Waverly’s two publication classes, Hi-Spot and Annual. The stories students write, the pictures they take and the pages they design will all go into a portfolio they create for their application to one of the two publication classes. Students have less than two months to create a professional, compelling and competitive portfolio of work to help them stand out from their peers.

Some Intro JOU students are getting the opportunity to get their work published on the Hi-Spot’s online publication. While this counts as extra credit for class, it is an invaluable asset to the students seeking admittance to Waverly’s journalism programs.

With less than two months to go, Intro students are racing to beat an impending deadline to get the best work out there, which is fitting, considering both Hi-Spot and Viking Annual spend all year racing against the very same deadlines.

Both programs are set to grow and become even more successful with these up-and-coming journalists.

Demystifying Poetry

Sometimes, against all reason and justification, humans find themselves moved by some "higher power". We tag this unknown, ethereal "higher power" with all sorts of labels: having an epiphany; being moved by the spirit; following a hunch; going with a gut feeling; trusting our intuition.

Whatever it's called, I had one of those. I had one of those spirit-moving, gut-rending epiphanies about switching gears about our next unit.

And, to be frank, it's quite fitting.

Originally, English 10A was going to start its practice NeSA unit; students are reintroduced to the NeSA writing exam--they take them in eighth grade--and practice dissecting prompts, reflecting, organizing, and writing responses. It's an excellent way to prepare sophomores for this test that faces them their junior year.

However, something led me away from the plans laid out for my students. Afterall, we just completed a literary analysis, which includes some of the same basic organization and writing skills as the NeSA requires.

Instead, I decided to jump to our final unit of the year a little early: poetry.

At the beginning of each class, I took a quick survey of the students to find out what they thought of poetry. The answers were widely varied. Some students said poetry was inspirational, expressive, creative, and advanced, while other students believed poetry to be difficult, dumb, stupid, pointless, needlessly vague, and even a "waste of paper".

Strong words.

But who can blame them? A majority of people hate poetry, right? That's a well-known fact. It's a "duh" statement to say most people hate poetry. Talk about pointing out the obvious, right? Just like saying a majority of teenagers enjoy listening to music; DUH!

Except music IS poetry; music is poetry set to a tune.

That slightly blew their minds. They love music--they ask to listen to it every day--and they hate poetry, but it's really the same thing. Just like a movie is nothing more than a book-turned-performance, music is nothing more than poetry-turned-performance.

The problem lies in the fact students simply don't understand poetry.

I attempted to clarify this concept for students. I asked students what they loved to do. Each period, I focused on a student that loves sports. To one student, I asked "how do you feel when someone says baseball is a stupid sport--it's a pointless game that lasts way too long...anyone can hit or throw a ball!"

His response: "People that think that obviously don't understand baseball."

And he was right. I, for one, understand next to nothing about baseball. In fact, if it's sports-related, a person might as well be speaking to me in Greek, because the concept and techniques are lost on me. I am ignorant in the ways of sports. I went so far as to admit that were I to sit and watch a baseball game, a wrestling match, or a track meet with the student athletes that participated in those events, they would have a much deeper appreciation for the sport than I would. The technique, beauty, nuances, and greatness of those sporting events would be evident to them, but the concept blows clean over my head.

But, this is how I drove it home for them. I showed them a poem by William Carlos Willams; most students agreed it was a stupid, pointless poem, but they were willing to trust me that there was greatness about it that they weren't able to see because they were ignorant in the ways of poetry. However, once we dissected the poem and looked at it through the eyes of a poet, they began to see something bigger beneath the seemingly simple, pointless poem.

During this unit, it's not my goal to get students to love poetry, or for them to go out to Barnes & Nobel and buy themselves the complete work of e.e. Cummings (though, they could do worse things...), but to be able to appreciate the inherint beauty, technique, purpose, and nuance behind poetry. In doing so, they will be able to not only read and better appreciate quality poetry, but also recognize and appreciate quality music*, too.

Over the next few weeks, students will learn poetic devices, read and write in various poetic styles, and hopefully, develop an appreciation for one of the oldest art forms known to mankind.

In the end, students should see that poetry does indeed have a point.

*We compared two lines of contemporary songs to illustrate how some songs have more inherint quality based on the poetic devices they use. Compare--

"Happiness" by The Fray:
"Happiness is just outside my window/
I thought it'd crash blowing 80-miles an hour/
But happiness is a little more like knocking/
On your door; you just let it in"

to Justin Beiber's "Baby":
"Baby, baby, baby, ooh,
Like baby, baby, baby, ooh,
Like baby, baby, baby, ooh,
I thought you'd always be mine (mine)"

Obviously, there's something to be said about utilizing poetic elements and the impact lyrics have.