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Developing reporters
who are more than note-takers

Posted by on Jan 13, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment


by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

“Question authority” is my favorite button, something I have worn proudly on my jacket, a message to both students and administrators. True, questioning in a snarky or defiant way isn’t a good idea. My approach is more like “Make sure authority isn’t leaving out information we need to know.”

But that isn’t very catchy and definitely wouldn’t fit on a button.

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Student promotes need for sex education

Posted by on Dec 12, 2015 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


Kylee Sharp, a junior at John Muir High School in Pasadena, Calif., was more than disgusted that her school had not sex education program for the students. She decided to use her skills as a student journalist to change that to make sure the students at her high school received the best sex education possible.

Adviser of The Blaze, the high school’s newspaper, Jose Ortega, shared Sharp’s mission.

“Kylee Sharp, an opinion writer, condemned the absence of any sex education at John Muir High School. As a result, the Administration and the Science Department are making concrete plans to deliver sex education to Muir’s students, beginning in the next school year. Her thoroughness in discussing this issue led many to realize that Muir is not even doing the bare minimum to educate its students about a very real part of their lives: sex and its physical and emotional repercussions. But because of Kylee, the Muir community stands to benefit from being educated on this still very taboo subject.”

The following is Sharp’s piece that appeared in the May 28, 2015, edition.

“Recently, the administration acknowledged the lack of HIV/AIDS prevention education in biology classes. A couple of years ago, the freshman class took physics for the science requirement instead of biology. The following year new ­to ­our­ school biology teachers were hired. There was a lot miscommunication between the administration and teachers about what was required to be taught.

At this point in young adolescent lives, most teenagers are very aware of what sex is, but many are not aware of safe sex. But what do these students actually know about sex? Or consent? And where are they getting their information? Not in missing sex ed classes, that’s for certain.

Today, sex is referenced everywhere in the media, from music to movies and books to billboards. Sex, or at least the mention of it, is everywhere, especially at school, and it would be pretty impossible to try to shield young adults from it.

Refusing, by not providing proper sexual education classes, to acknowledge that students know about sex only adds to the issue.

Students have a right to know and be informed on what sex is, what the consequences are, and what they can do to avoid sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

A few weeks ago there was an assembly held right before prom to inform seniors of the difference between consent and rape, and this was the closest we have come to sex ed.

Teen pregnancies have decreased over the past few years, however adolescents are at an increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (according to the Center for Disease Control Statistics from 2013). So I think it’s pretty important that we have proper sex ed, to increase awareness and inform teens of STDs and unexpected pregnancies.

I know that people will argue that freshmen may be too young to understand sex, but tell that to the high school girls that are pregnant and the boys that impregnated them. Most of us know what sex is and how it works, but we don’t know the repercussions of our actions, especially if we aren’t making safe decisions, or practicing safe sex.

Sexual education, if we were to have it, should be a safe and serious class where teenagers can become better informed. Apparently, schools are not required to teach sex education, according to the California Education Code (CEC) Section 51931 (b), but if they do, they have to follow specific guidelines that conform to the Comprehensive Sexual Health Act.

The guidelines state that if the schools teach sex ed, they must teach that abstinence is the safest way to not have sex and most guaranteed way to not get pregnant, even though they are not limited to just that. Schools are also required to cover teaching about contraceptives, according to the CEC guidelines. What is taught has to be appropriate for the age group.

When I say that we need sex ed, I mean everything from reproduction and anatomy, to healthy relationships, to pregnancy and safe contraceptives. Information on different sexual and gender identities, to inform students who may be struggling. The most important aspect of the class, to me, is to provide students with a safe, confidential space to ask questions and get the accurate information they need to be informed and make informed decisions.

Every sex ed lesson I ever had in middle school taught that abstinence was the only sure way to not get pregnant, and if I did have sex and get pregnant, that’s too bad. But of course the CEC also states that they prohibit abstinence­ only education, so where is the proper education?

Even though schools are not required to teach comprehensive sexual health, they are required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention education at least once in junior high and once again in high school.

To this day, I have had one class on HIV/AIDS prevention. In seventh grade. I have not had anything regarding HIV/AIDS prevention in any class here at Muir.

HIV/AIDS prevention is supposed to be taught in biology after it is already taught in middle school. However, a new curriculum, Next Generation Science Standards, was recently implemented by the school board which does not cover human anatomy or the reproductive

This is really unfair for current students who haven’t received anything on HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS may be covered during the genetic diseases unit if a student researches that topic for their project, but HIV/AIDS preventions and the reproductions system are not specifically covered, just sexual and asexual reproduction at a cellular level according to Biology teacher Alexandra Gonzales.

Gonzales said, “I think it’s important to educate students about ways they can protect themselves from contracting venereal diseases. I think all students would benefit from taking a year of Health.”

At this point it’s pretty evident that I believe we need an actual class for sex ed, and not a unit in biology.

However Principal Timothy Sippel said, “Sex ed should be covered in middle school. [If we were to have it here] I think three to four or five lessons would probably be adequate. Maybe less, maybe more. I don’t think that the entire semester would be required.”

Honestly, I don’t agree. I feel like it would take a few lessons to cover STDs or how to identify unstable relationships. I certainly do not agree that the lessons that are apparently taught in middle school are enough. I don’t think that a few lessons are enough to cover everything that has to do with sex.

The fact that adults are hesitant to say the word “sex” around minors further perpetuates the idea that the very natural act of sex is taboo. This is so harmful to our impressionable minds. Adults doing this creates a stigma around sex and compels us to believe that sex is bad and wrong, and if we are having it then we are bad and wrong. Therefore, we cannot talk about it.

It seems to be a popular consensus that sex education should not be the school’s responsibility, especially not in high school. Even after all the information I gathered for this article, I still stand
with my original statement that sex ed should be taught in high school.

There is the on­going debate everywhere over who is responsible to educate young adults on sex, but in the midst of all this debate, students are not being educated by anyone.

I believe that it should be both the high school and the parent or guardian’s responsibility to inform and educate teenagers on the issues and topic of sex.

School Nurse Mercedese Hervey said, “It probably is important to go over [sex ed] because I’m sure some young people have forgotten it, but the sad thing about it is that we no longer have a health class.”

In the nurse’s office there are a few pamphlets with information about STDs and HIV, but most of them in Spanish. STDs are important to know about considering the highest rates of STDs in the city of Pasadena are in teens 15-19 and young adults.

I have heard adults (not at school) say that providing students with condoms will encourage them to have sex. There are studies that prove this to be false. Also, it doesn’t make sense, I think that providing students with condoms would encourage students to have safe, protected sex, if they were to have it, and it would encourage them to make healthy decisions.

Our school does not provide condoms for students because the school lacks the resources to accommodate the guidelines that follow the distribution of condoms.

However, the decision to distribute condoms ultimately originates from the school board, not necessarily the school.

The school board recently voted to reinstate the health class requirement, which will begin with next year’s freshmen. This class requirement is very likely to include sex education. I think that this is really great and a huge step towards changing the lack of sex ed. Even if it won’t benefit the current students, it’s really significant for these incoming freshmen.

All in all, I think that it is completely necessary to have sex ed at school, since we don’t really have it. I truly believe that us teens require a sex education class, even if it’s just a refresher from middle school. We need it, we want it, so where is it?”

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No one lives in a Hazelwood state

Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Blog, Hazelwood, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment


sprclogoby Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

The first time a journalism teacher in a convention session asked for advice because she lived “in a Hazelwood state,” I know I frowned. What? You may be in a state that doesn’t protect student speech, but how would that make you a Hazelwood state?

The important news is — it doesn’t.

In 1969 when Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District said students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, this meant all students — it was a protection.

But Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) didn’t overturn Tinker. And it didn’t say schools HAD to censor or prior review. In fact, eventually we have found some pretty big loopholes. For one thing, your state CAN pass legislation that protects student speech, as North Dakota did in April 2015 to join the other nine states that have laws (and two that have education codes). This new surge of interest in legislation has emerged in more than 21 states, with many adopting the New Voices name.

The more we can do to discourage school officials from seeing Hazelwood-supported censorship as an obligation but instead perceiving it as an embarrassment, the better off scholastic journalism will be.  Avoiding the ‘Hazelwood state’ moniker is one way to do that…Mark Goodman

But even if your state doesn’t offer such protection, you have options. For one thing, you can operate as an open forum for student expression, either by your board policy or by your own practice of having students make content decisions and avoid prior review.

As former SPLC director Mark Goodman, now Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism and professor at Kent State, said, “It goes back to the fact that Hazelwood never requires censorship by school officials.  Too many people misread or misinterpret Hazelwood as being a directive as opposed to a permission.”

He pointed out that even in these so-called “Hazelwood states” many student journalists have strong First Amendment protection as a result of their school’s policy or practice of designating them as a public forum.

“The more we can do to discourage school officials from seeing Hazelwood-supported censorship as an obligation but instead perceiving it as an embarrassment, the better off scholastic journalism will be.  Avoiding the ‘Hazelwood state’ moniker is one way to do that,” Goodman said.


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Don’t drink the water

Posted by on Nov 20, 2015 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Making a difference…part of a series

sprclogoWhen the water in the fountains and spigots at Rockville High School (Md.) ran rusty, Rampage contributing editor Xavier Rivera knew something had to be done. The three-part investigative report Rivera wrote caught the attention of a state senator and brought the issue to the forefront motivating administration to seek a remedy to reduce the levels of lead in the water to acceptable EPA levels.

Rampage adviser, Jessica Nassau explained that the “story began during a Rampage staff brainstorming session, when students mentioned that the water coming from the fountains tasted “funny.” Editor Xavier Rivera decided that it was a story worth exploring, kicking off a three-story investigative series. He sent water samples to a lab and the results showed lead levels that surpassed the EPA limits.

He interviewed professionals and district officials to get the full story, and the online edition came to the attention of Senator Karen Montgomery, who wrote a letter to the school board. It was clear that this was a safety issue that could not be ignored.

Due to the story, the school began the EPA recommended water-flushing protocol, which brought the lead presence down to what is considered a safe level. The articles really got the attention of students and staff at our school, and we definitely heard from many of them that they wouldn’t drink the water until the problem was fixed.

That the district ultimately had to take action based on a student publication was tremendously empowering for the whole staff of the Rampage, who came to see that journalists really do make a difference. Though the article was primarily Xavier’s, I would like to mention that he had tremendously supportive editors-in-chief who helped him. This was a story that was bigger than one person, and it was wonderful to see the staff come together to make it the best it could be.”

Read the stories at the links provided.

H20 or H2No?

Administration Responds to Water Quality

Flushing Protocol Meklit Bekele– The Rampage Fixes Water Quality

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A class activity to learn
both law AND ethics

Posted by on Nov 2, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoby Candace Bowen
“The first lesson she asked me to teach is lawnethics,” the excited student teacher said, adding more slowly, “But now I’m not exactly sure what that is….”

Sadly, she wasn’t alone in a class of education majors who would soon be licensed to teach journalism in a large Midwestern state. In fact, ask some teachers already in the classroom, ask their principals, and, while they would know it’s not all one word, they might be hard pressed to explain the difference between LAW and ETHICS.

But not knowing the difference makes it difficult to teach these two concepts effectively. They are separate fields, though they do overlap in theory and practice, and plenty of journalistic situations require us to assess both legal and ethical components.

So let’s look at them carefully. The simplistic definition says, “Law tells us what we COULD do, and ethics helps us decide what we SHOULD do.” Other definitions point out laws are passed by governing bodies of a town, state or country and breaking a law has specified consequences. In other words, you can be punished for not following the rules.

Ethics, on the other hand, is more about an individual or team process to arrive at the best way to act for the situation. According to the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, “Ethical questions arise most typically in cases where there is genuine puzzlement about what should be done in various types of situations. There is usually some practical importance or urgency to such questions. Is it ethical for journalists to reveal their sources to the courts, despite their promises of confidentiality? Is it ethical of journalists to invade the privacy of politicians to investigate allegations of unethical conduct?”

It’s impossible to spell out all the ethical options because situations constantly change, and what works in one situation may be wrong in another that’s somewhat similar. Journalists need guidelines to help them make ethical decisions, but hard and fast rules won’t always work.

That’s why so many organizations have ethical guidelines that are flexible. Read the SPJ Code of Ethics: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable and Transparent. It says nothing about firing a journalist for using an unnamed source or setting up an undercover sting, but the bullet points under each of these main tenets give the media some guidelines.

The Principals Guide to Scholastic Journalism also helps explain the difference between law and ethics and includes an extensive list of links to valuable resources.

Experienced journalism educators usually find it more effective to teach legal issues first, then ethical, because that’s the approach journalists take in the real world. What COULD we do? Would we be libeling someone if we printed that? If it’s illegal, go no further. But legal situations may have ethical implications. SHOULD we use the victim’s name? What about the accused? Both names? Neither name?

JEA’s law and ethics curriculum follows that same organization (for JEA members only). Even the three-week module handles the First Amendment, court cases, unprotected speech (libel, copyright, invasion of privacy), reporter’s privilege, FERPA, FOIA, before “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should” and additional ethics approaches.


Copy shot provided by the artist

Hypotheticals are a one good way to get students to look at a situation’s legal and ethical issues, like this one about a piece of art and how the student newspaper could and should report it:

As an art class project, the teacher told her students to create a scratchboard drawing, either from imagination or using a photo as its basis. Tammy used a picture in a school board-approved book, The Family of Man, that depicted a woman balancing a basket on her head. The art teacher thought her finished product was wonderful and wanted to put it in a display case at the end of the art hallway, but she wasn’t sure she could — the woman was nude from the waist up. When the teacher asked the principal’s opinion, he said, no, don’t hang it in the hall. Tammy was furious and so were some of the newspaper staff when they heard the story. Would you cover this incident? How? As an editorial? A news story? Whom would you interview? Would you consider running a copy shot of the photo? What would the principal likely say? First, think about the legal issues — is it obscene? Is it a copyright violation? Any other possible laws you might break? If nothing is legally wrong, what about the ethics? What is your reason for running it? (Download the picture here)





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