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A gem you probably missed

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by Candace Bowen, MJE

As school was winding down in Spring 2020, media advisers scrambled to help students find photos – ANY photos – for the yearbook. Or tried to cover the pandemic locally on their new, we-don’t-know-quite-how-it-works-yet website. Or they just focused on helping their students finish the year.

As school was winding down in Spring 2020, “AASA School Administrator” magazine devoted the center section of its June 2020 issue – eight pages plus the editor’s “Starting Point” column – to student voices and their value in today’s schools. 


 

For most, it wasn’t a time to thumb through magazines, even ones with topics of interest. And for just that reason, many probably missed a wonderful gift: “AASA School Administrator” magazine devoted the center section of its June 2020 issue – eight pages plus the editor’s “Starting Point” column – to student voices and their value in today’s schools. 

The hard copy publication went to “20,000 individuals in school system administration, mostly superintendents, across the country,” editor Jay P. Goldman said in a letter to me for helping him connect with some writers. The issue is available online, too, and contains just the kind of information from administrators across the country that might help you convince YOURS that censoring and stifling student media is not the best way to go. Educationally sound reasons DO exist for having allowing students to make content decisions.

In his column, Goldman credits his career path to “a journalism elective course [he took] as an 11th grader taught by an outstanding teacher.” He notes that life doesn’t always run smoothly for student journalists, but the “real-world applications of effective communication and creative thinking skills [are] exactly what schools ought to be delivering these days.”

So what articles might you want to share with your administrators? “Giving Voice to Students Through Published Words,” by education writer Michelle R. Davis, contains plenty of great examples. She quotes Scott Kizner, who has been superintendent at several districts and testified in support of the Virginia New Voices legislation: “There are many times, let me tell you, that I wish the topic [the students were writing about] would go away, but you don’t get to pick and choose what is newsworthy to avoid difficult conversations.” 

Kizner told Davis students often want to discuss tough issues often before adults are ready to do so. “You have to trust the students and the staff that has been given the responsibility for advising them, to help them learn and grow.” 

Davis interviewed Roger Stock, superintendent of Rocklin Unified School District in California, who warned, “Censoring a story can boomerang back at you and be worse than the original story.” He added censoring “undermines the aim of an effective scholastic program: providing authentic learning and experiences in a real-world setting.”

“Censoring a story can boomerang back at you and be worse than the original story.” He added that censoring “undermines the aim of an effective scholastic program: providing authentic learning and experiences in a real-world setting.”–Roger Stock, superintendent of Rocklin Unified School District in California

Other parts of Davis’ article include examples of censorship and one superintendent saying he now takes a different approach and lets the students tell their stories. Another names the important skills  students learn through journalism: “research and reflection, presentation and communication, development of voice and the ability to express ideas clearly.” 

In “Amplifying Student Voice Through Their Publications,” Amy Besler described how poor the student media were in the first school to hire her as principal.  She noted how she was able to hire “a brilliant, experienced journalist, with no teaching background” made a big difference in the program. “Before long, she had turned a rag-tag bunch of unwitting students into journalists who took the initiative to develop a fantastic online site….”  

The former superintendent of Lordstown, Ohio, schools, Terry P. Armstrong, contributed “Student Journalism as a Route to Civic Engagement.” He said he worked with a new social studies teacher to encourage more student political involvement. That included hosting Democracy Day, which had Mary Beth Tinker as a speaker, and launching a student newspaper. Armstrong wrote he hopes “our students carry civic engagement with them into the future while protecting and promoting quality journalism for decades to come.” 

As Goldman noted at the end of his column, “Perhaps there’s never been a more important moment for the exercise of voice. Educators ought to do what they can to flex their students’ muscles.”

And one way to do that might be to share some of these articles with administrators at your school. School Administrator, June 2020

NOTE: Jay Goldman is a recipient of JEA’s 2020 Friend of Scholastic Journalism Award, which goes to a professional journalist, professional media outlet or other individual or group making a significant contribution to scholastic journalism. He has also volunteered for the Washington, D.C. National High School Journalism Conventions, leading Break with a Pro, helping set up media experience tours, getting featured speakers and judging Write-offs at the 2019 convention. This award is usually presented at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention awards luncheon, although, with this year’s virtual convention, some of us may want to reach out to congratulate Goldman by email.

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