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Start the year by promoting journalism skills,
not just defending your programs

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by Fern Valentine

Sadly, many journalism advisers are having to defend their programs in an educational environment that concentrates on basic skills that are needed to pass national or state tests. However, employers interviewed across the country are looking for applied skills that they say are not found in most high school or even college graduates.

In “Are They Really Ready to Work?” employers listed clearly the applied skills they want in new entrants to the 21st Century U.S. workforce, and 100 percent of them are integral parts of a student-run publications program.

They define “applied skills” as those skills that enable new entrants –recently hired graduates from high school, two-year colleges or technical schools and four-years colleges– to use the basic knowledge acquired in school to perform in the workplace.

The study’s findings indicate applied skills on all educational levels trump basic knowledge and skills such as Reading Comprehension and Mathematics. They say that while basic skills are still fundamental to any worker’s ability to do the job, applied skills are “very important” to succeed in the workplace.

Among the most important skills cited by employers were Oral and Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Professional/Work Ethic, and Critical Thinking/Problem Solving.

Other necessary skills listed were: Information Technology Application, Diversity, Leadership, Lifelong Learning/ Self Direction, Creativity/Innovation, and Ethics/ Social Responsibility.

Sounds like a great journalism curriculum to me.

These skills are clearly developed and strengthened in the publications classroom where student editors lead the staff.

By working as a team producing school publications, students learn practical lessons in communication and in civic responsibility. They write for an audience of their peers instead of for their teachers. They research by interview rather than just by internet searches, developing oral communication skills not taught in other classes. They develop critical thinking skills, learn to meet deadlines, and work within a budget as part of a team.

Presenting their work in a graphically attractive manner is another unique skill practicing the very technology employers want and need.

Even more importantly, students learn first hand the civic lessons our forefathers intended when they built a free press into our democracy.

Project-based learning provided by working on a publications staff clearly prepares students for the working world. These skills are enhanced when the students themselves solve the problems and take responsibility for what they publish. The more involved they are, the more they learn.

Working on a publications staff, led by trained student editors, clearly prepares students for future careers, not just a journalism career, but any career. Employers say over and over that they want to employ people with the skills students clearly learn on publications staffs.

See http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/FINAL_REPORT_PDF09-29-06.pdf for the full 64 page report compiled by four organizations jointly surveying over 400 employers across the United States.

School districts across the country are cutting journalism programs from their curriculum. They clearly don’t realize the enhanced learning opportunity they provide.

Other districts restrict those learning opportunities because they are afraid to let students practice some of the skills employers say they want like ethics, social responsibility, self direction and leadership. Ironically, that restriction not only inhibits learning, it opens the district to greater liability.

Advisers are fighting to retain their programs when school districts seem to emphasize only classes that “teach to the test.” Advisers need to stress that along side the obvious writing skills, publications offer unique opportunities to learn lifelong skills that will help their students succeed no matter what career path they follow.

Advisers need to stress that students learn by doing and may need to call on former students, now successful in their chosen careers, to write administrators and school board members about the importance of the unique skills they learned by working on a student-run publications staff.

Only a few members of publications staffs will seek journalistic careers, but they will all be more informed consumers of the media and understand its essential role in a democracy.

When students are allowed to work responsibly as a team with the freedom to make creative and innovative choices, they learn and practice all the applied skills employers in all fields seek in their work force.

Districts need to recognize and encourage open forum publication programs not restrict or eliminate them. Advisers need to continue to make administrators and school boards aware of the unique learning opportunities a student-run publication can provide.

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