By Zack Anderson, ONA Intern
COLUMBUS – Students at Hayes High School in Delaware who have Julieanne McClain as their sophomore English teacher won’t be reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Scarlet Letter.”
That’s because while students take McClain’s class for sophomore English credit, they learn English through journalism.
“I refuse to teach fiction in a journalism class,” McClain said.
English-journalism classes such as McClain’s are not the norm. And while Ohio has typically had some of the strongest scholastic journalism programs in the country, the number of these programs may be dwindling, said Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University. Goodman said with schools focusing more and more on educational standards amid financial challenges, high school journalism is facing uncertain times, not only in Ohio but also around the U.S.
“If it isn’t something that’s going to directly relate to helping students do better on standardized tests and especially at a time when there are fewer resources than ever available, it’s really hard to defend that kind of program when a school has decided it may be on a cutting block,” Goodman said.
Showing how journalism meets standards
Goodman’s colleague at Kent State, Candace Perkins Bowen, said because states are moving toward the Common Core State Standards from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, it is important for high school journalism teachers to show that journalism has a place in helping students meet these standards.
“To a certain extent, it’s going to be a matter of can you talk the talk,” Bowen said.
Bowen – the director of Kent State’s Center for Scholastic Journalism and the executive director of the Ohio Scholastic Media Association – added that journalism teaches the writing standards for different tasks, purposes and audiences even better than English does.
“Virtually all of them, you can apply to journalism,” she said of the standards.
Journalism also fits Common Core’s focus on research and persuasive writing, said McClain, who is the secretary of the Ohio Scholastic Media Association. In her sophomore journalism class, the students learn persuasive writing both through a paper on the history of journalism as well as through writing reviews, where they learn the ethos, pathos and logos elements of argument. They learn research while studying journalism ethics, writing a paper comparing news coverage of an event with the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
Scores of success
Based on the scores McClain’s students have received on the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT), a test given to sophomores statewide, her English-journalism combination is working. For the 2012-2013 school year, her sophomores had a 100 percent passing rate on both the English and writing portions of the OGT.
According to Goodman, research supports what McClain is finding.
“Students who work in scholastic journalism in high school actually get better grades, have higher scores on college admission exams, and get better grades their first year in college,” Goodman said. “So there really are clear benefits to high school journalism beyond the journalism experience itself.”
Even so, Goodman said funding is a real concern for scholastic journalism both around the country and in Ohio.
“As the state funding mechanisms have changed, and schools are having to tighten their belts, scholastic journalism programs are really perhaps more beleaguered these days then they’ve been in some time,” Goodman said.
To help ward off budget issues, Goodman said he actively encourages high school publications to sell advertising if they don’t already. Dean Hume, adviser of the Spark news magazine at Lakota East High School, in Liberty Township, Ohio, said Spark’s budget of $37,000 a year comes from advertising, subscriptions and fundraisers.
Hume said Spark has been affected by shrinking advertising just like the professional world. Spark – which just published its 150th issue of 158 pages – has had to find smaller advertisers who don’t run ads as often.
“It continues to get bigger even as ad money gets smaller,” Hume said of Spark.
Delaware’s McClain also said ads for the Talisman newspaper have been harder to sell this year than before.
Both Talisman and Spark get money from subscriptions as well. McClain said this was the pilot year for subscriptions for Talisman and that they had 10-15 subscribers, mostly parents and grandparents of Talisman staff members. Students get the newspaper for free. On the other hand at Lakota East – which is part of a Cincinnati suburban school district of over 18,000 students – teachers, parents, students, Spark editors and even Hume himself must subscribe to Spark if they want a copy.
“Everybody has to pay,” Hume said.
A unique problem the Dublin Scioto High School’s Irish Eye news magazine is facing with subscriptions are the demographics of the school, said Amanda Leahy, Irish Eye adviser. She said while Dublin is a pretty affluent district in general, her specific high school has a disproportionate 27 percent of students on free or reduced lunch.
“I think with that comes a different value on education and school, and not necessarily across the board but definitely trend-wise, it feels like an uphill battle sometimes,” said Leahy, an Ohio Scholastic Media Association board member.
She said Irish Eye currently has about 70 subscribers. This is down by about half from nine years ago. Leahy said if this continues, the news magazine might have to look to going online to save money.
“Eventually maybe we’ll go all digital, but I know a lot of my students that take the journalism class, they don’t want to,” Leahy said. “They want to keep that print product. So figuring out that delicate balance is something that we’re at some point going to have to deal with.”
At Delaware, McClain said even her students are aware of the financial pressure. She said with other schools cutting journalism programs and with Talisman operating as a public forum, students feel responsible to put out a quality publication. They just submitted Talisman for the National Scholastic Press Association’s Pacemaker competition for the first time.
“My students have really high hopes to at least be a finalist,” she said.
“The best job in the world”
McClain’s hopeful, too, for high school journalism as a whole.
“A lot of people are really worried that we’re at the end of scholastic journalism, but I don’t see it like that,” she said, saying high school journalism is at a really good beginning.
And McClain is more than happy to be teaching students at this beginning, calling her job the best in the world.
“I love it,” she said. “I love it, I love it.”
Examples of Student Journalism in Ohio: Talisman, Julieanne McClain, adviser, Hayes High School, Delaware