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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Education Toolbox

Still great value in high school journalism

By Teresa A. White

21st-century skills. Project-based learning. Problem solving. Writing for a real audience. Authentic use of technology. Media literacy. Critical thinking. Cooperative learning. Multi-disciplinary learning. Most likely you’ve heard these education buzz phrases, but would you recognize them in action?

If you observed most high school student media production classes, you would.

Let’s use Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., as an example:

• School enrollment in 2011-12 was 2,914.

• Yearbook sales average 1,700 copies, with incremental price increases as year progresses, starting at $45 and topping off at $65 per book.

• Printing costs total $65,000 plus shipping.

• Advertising sales average $17,000 per year.

• Students produce and edit all content, plus sell books and advertising while their media adviser coaches the staff.

Here’s a class project in which students apply inquiry, communication, design, technology and business skills, because failure to do so will result in real-world consequences. Yearbook staff members, like other student media members, make their course work public, and their audience trusts them to provide accurate and thorough coverage of the school year.

However, despite lip service from K-12 reformers and politicians about how schools need to prepare students for college and the real world, they lack an understanding of journalism and its integrated learning opportunities.

In March, an admissions officer asked my advice in responding to an email he’d received from a frustrated high school journalism teacher:

I’m part of the Journalism Education Association — yearbook and newspaper and broadcast advisers, and more. A loooong story short, we’re competing for kids’ attention in scheduling when it comes to AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes.

This came up on our [JEA] email listserv yesterday, quoted from a colleague’s email:

“I need help attracting the over-extended, high-end student to my journalism class. Basically, my school keeps adding AP courses to the program, and students trying to get into 4-year universities have been brainwashed to think that AP trumps everything else in the world.

You and I know the value of Journalism, and I could stand up here all day and tell kids why my class benefits them, but with all the pressure to get into college, I really need some primary-source information from colleges.

I want someone from your office to go on the record, if they would, about how they view “yearbook kids” in the application process and what awareness or appreciation you all have of journalism kids and the skill set(s) they bring to the table as freshmen.”

The admissions officer said if yearbook class counts as an English course at a student’s school, he can award credit. His comment to me: “We know that the work that students put into this class is typically more work — and very practical work at that — than many other English classes. Of course, this is all subjective depending on the quality of the course and the instructor.”

I can’t pinpoint why education officials don’t recognize high school journalism as a college prep course. Perhaps they don’t understand how high school programs have changed over the years, or they themselves came from a school with a weak or non-existent journalism program. Maybe they see journalism as vocational training, not part of the academy.

If that’s the case, why do most high school business classes count as college prep? Indiana has 40 approved course titles listed under business, marketing, and information technology education. A quick review of course descriptions reveals Hamilton Southeastern’s yearbook staff is learning not just journalism, but business skills as well:

• Principles of Business Management: Students will attain an understanding of management, team building, leadership, problem-solving steps and processes that contribute to the achievement of organizational goals.

• Principles of Marketing: Emphasis is placed on oral and written communications, mathematical applications, problem solving and critical thinking skills as they relate to advertising/promotion/selling, distribution, financing, marketing-information management, pricing and product/service management.

• Computer Illustration and Graphics: basic computer terminology and use, mastering fundamental skills, and developing efficient working styles. These skills are then developed by creating work with imaging, drawing, interactive and page layout software.

Many guidance counselors tell students and parents journalism is dying and colleges won’t count or don’t view journalism courses favorably. Consequently, students are advised to take other courses even if they are interested in journalism and media careers.

Journalism professionals are best positioned to educate students, parents and education leaders in our communities. We can vouch for the value of communication and technology skills. Let’s explain why journalism is an excellent vehicle for 21st-century learning.

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