By Hannah Heimbuch
When a power outage put Homer off the grid for a few hours last week, Homer High School senior Nahoa Jette took to the halls.
He wasn’t looking for trouble, but for a story.
One of his electives this semester is journalism, which the high school is offering this year after a short hiatus.
“Because of the nature of the class, it is offered based upon student interest, staffing and course availability,” said teacher Mark Putney. “I was excited when I learned we were able to offer the class for students this year.”
Nine students enrolled for the first semester, and between them have taken on the challenge of filling the pages of the Mariner Compass with news stories, sports, opinion pieces and photos.
“Each of us have been creating a piece that we choose,” Jette said, “whether it (is) opinion, news, feature. We write it, edit it and submit it.”
Students have also divided up some of the newsroom responsibilities, taking on different roles as writers, editors, graphic designers and photographers in an effort to combine their skills and interests for a more productive publication.
Jette has always enjoyed writing, he said, and having the opportunity to combine it with his interest in current events and talking to his peers has been fun.
He has taken on some serious issues in that process. “I did a feature piece on the SAT,” Jette said. “How it is an unbalanced way of determining a student’s success.”
The class has led Jette to a variety of stories over the course of the semester, from analysis of professional sports organizations to delving into the recent installation of security cameras in the high school hallways.
Jette plans to pursue a business degree in college next year, and is considering a journalism minor if his chosen school offers it.
The class has been publishing every couple of weeks this quarter, said Putney, but is picking up the pace as Christmas nears and putting out an edition every week. Sophomore Sierra Deloach, like many in the class, leans toward point of view pieces.
“I definitely prefer opinion articles because I’m a very opinionated person,” Deloach said. “So it works well for me.”
As Deloach clicked through the finishing touches on that week’s Mariner Compass layout, she said the class has been an interesting departure from the poetry and other creative writing she generally favors. “It’s a different kind of writing than I’m used to,” Deloach said. “It’s a new skill. It kind of irks me that it doesn’t count as a practical art or a language.”
Putney allows students to keep their subject matter as broad or focused as their interests will take them, he said, encouraging them to search out the writing material that grabs them most.
“Students had free choice throughout the semester, which was empowering and often overwhelming,” Putney said. “Coming up with story ideas was often the most challenging part of the writing process for students.” While he guided story ideas in the beginning of the semester, leading student discussion and exploration of other news sources for inspiration, students became more independent as the semester gathered steam.
“In the end, each student wrote what he or she wanted to focus upon, whether it was a local or global story,” Putney said.
Sophomore Sam Draves is open to just about any subject matter.
“I like to write about a variety of things,” Draves said, “anything that kind of spikes my interest.” That might mean anything from basketball games to the Homer Spit.
Being challenged to write on those subjects in more of a news format, she said, has given her ideas on ways she can expand her report and essay writing in other subjects.
“I started doing this to kind of get an extra writing class,” she said, “to help my writing for other classes. To make it better. I think it’s forcing me to do different things than I wouldn’t normally do.”
While high school students are no strangers to the struggle of deadlines, Putney believes this class can offer students a space to voice their unique views.
“I hope the student paper serves as an avenue for student inquiry and reflection,” Putney said. “A student paper is a rare opportunity for adolescents to take ownership of their writing and publish for an audience. I hope students feel empowered.”
Student drive and the real breadth of their interests has been impressive to watch develop, Putney said. “From week to week, students are writing about major league baseball, Homer history, 3D printing, drug smuggling, local events, and viral videos – they are inquisitive,” he said. “I’ve been impressed with their willingness to call a community member for an interview, go to an event outside of school for a story, and work collaboratively.”
It’s been a unique and dynamic class, Putney added, one he’s enjoyed teaching.
“It also seems to be a terrific model for a language arts class,” he said, “as students experiment with diverse writing purposes, have an immediate audience, and can see their work published frequently.”
From research practice to time management, the journalism model has allowed students to exercise their abilities in a wide variety of skills, Putney said.
“Having a publishing goal allows students to get experience with lining up interviews, drafting, peer reviewing and conferencing,” he said. “Students seem more receptive to feedback from peers and a teacher when they know their piece is going to be read by friends and community members.”
The Mariner Compass can be found online at campbell.blogs.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/wpmu/2013/11/.
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