Southwest students learn journalism skill sets
Teachers focus on real-world skills
Southwest High School students are learning some valuable skill sets in the "news room" as part of a journalism course offered at the school.
Skills like researching information, staying organized, sharpening grammar, paying attention to detail, meeting deadlines and even increasing self-confidence are keys in the two classes offered at the district.
"The students are given opportunities to learn everything from reporting to writing stories, to social skills, research skills and working on deadlines in the class," said Steve Voyak, Southwest Middle School journalism teacher.
Journalism is offered as an elective course that was initially created to complete the yearbook, but grew into more when the school, despite its rural status and size, started its own newspaper about 10 years ago so students could get real-world practice. The class is also offered at the middle school level.
"It's just interesting that at such a small school, we have two journalism classes," Voyak said. "The newspaper was published weekly for seven years, and last year, we went to a magazine, The STARON Journal, which publishes six times a year," he said.
The publication's name is an anagram of Trojans, the school's mascot, and created by the 2015-2016 class.
"We publish three times a semester, usually between eight and 10 pages," said Voyak.
After two years, the magazine went digital, and now, it is posted on the school website and emailed to students.
"For many years, the journalism students also published most of the school sports and event programs, but that was tasked to the business department last year," Voyak said.
Voyak said the course teaches students valuable skills they can use whether they want to pursue a career in journalism or something else, skills like organization, planning, writing, editing, layout, graphics advertising and photography.
"The students also learn terms and monitor and analyze the news," he said. "Taking the class would be a good pre-requisite for a student wanting to go to college for journalism or communications."
To come up with subjects to report on for the magazine and yearbook, staff brainstorm for story ideas.
"The advisor has final say on what actually gets written, but the students have some latitude," Voyak said. "Most of the stories are fun or simply informative, but sometimes we do hard news. This year, we covered a story about school bus accidents."
Voyak has taught yearbook for 14 years at the school.
"It's exhilarating, frustrating and intimidating all at the same time," he said. "I studied journalism in college, spent 12 years as a journalist, [nine in newspapers, three in radio], and consider it an important profession. Students love yearbook, but it's a huge commitment for a teenager. The best part for me is when a student has an amazing idea and then executes it in the magazine or yearbook."
He puts his experience to use to imparting the skills of journalism to students, ensuring that by the time they're done with the class, they've got real-world skills they can use.
"I am incredibly hard on the yearbook staff, but I feel like when they finish the class, they have some of the skills needed to run a small business," Voyak said. "Those skills will help in college or the workplace."
Senior Cassie Teal, who has been in the class three years, can attest to that.
"The journalism class has taught me to get my ducks in a row, to be prepared, to have a game plan and to help me talk to people," she said. "It helped me be more sociable and be a better public speaker, also."
Some of the tasks she's done during her time in the class include helping build the magazine every two months, making pages for the yearbook, finding and writing stories on a variety of topics in the school environment.
The class has required a commitment, with Teal often working outside of school to meet deadlines and get the job done, but she feels learning those skills will serve her well in the future career goals.
"I'm going into law and thought journalism would be a good skill because you have to research things and gather information," she said.
The class size is small, with about four to seven students, but they are productive.
"We do a lot for our size," Teal said.
Southwest Middle School students also have the opportunity to learn about journalism as an elective course under the direction of Lee Stubblefield, who also has a background in journalism.
"My first job out of college was a sports editor for a small Arkansas weekly," Stubblefield said. "I have worked as a freelance writer for many years."
Even with younger students who may be just starting to explore career paths, the class has great value, Stubblefield believes.
"The class teaches students not only to write and write well, but also emphasizes the importance of meeting deadlines, time management, and self-motivation," he said. "Students are encouraged to seek out stories on their own, although a number of story lines are suggested or assigned."
The middle school has their own publication as well, The SWMS Chronicle.
"The SWMS Chronicle is technically an online blog, using the Google blogspot platform," Stubblefield said. "It is updated often, sometimes daily depending on the schedule and my ability to edit and post. This is the first time in many years we have had a middle school journalism class. [I was asked to] lead it due to my journalism experience. I try to model a 'go team' attitude for our students."
Stubblefield said he hopes in the future to collaborate on some projects with the high school journalism students, but for now, both groups are busy meeting deadlines.