A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

High school project expands

By Quill

SPJ has always had a strong presence on university campuses, but members of the San Diego Pro Chapter are taking it a step further – into high schools.

The chapter’s High School Project, which was launched experimentally last spring at a San Diego High School, has now expanded as a permanent program at a second school.

Greg Oberle is a drama teacher at Kearny High School who also teaches the journalism class. Kearny students are called “Komets,” and their official student newspaper is The Galaxy. It’s published every three weeks by a 25-student staff.

Kearny’s enrollment is highly diverse; Hispanics, blacks and Asians comprise 81 percent of its 1,700 students in almost equal proportions. It’s not heavily funded or favored by the San Diego Unified School District.

“So much of our recruiting is focused on colleges that we neglect the high-schoolers out there, and by the time most of us got into college, we knew we wanted to be journalists,” said Jamie Gonzales, SPJ Region XI director and assistant managing editor of the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta.

This fall, the Kearny students are studying the basics – what constitutes news; conducting interviews; the five W’s and story leads; and the role of a reporter in society.

Each Friday, SPJ members from print and broadcast media visit the class to talk about their work. Guests this fall include Chris Moran, education writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune; Union-Tribune Metro Photo Editor David Poller; SPJ’s San Diego Chapter President Andrew Kleske of the North County Times; Managing Editor J.W. August of KGTV-ABC Ch. 10 News; and Chris Jennewein, director of The Union-Tribune’s online service, SignOn San Diego.

Also appearing in the classroom this fall were Scott Horsley, SPJ’s local board treasurer and national correspondent for NPR, and Susan Marshall, media director of Broadway San Diego, the San Diego agency regularly presenting Broadway shows from New York.

To train Kearny reporters for real-world news conferences, editors Jessica Stone and Najwa Mayer sent letters to San Diego’s new district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, and Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger inviting them to hold news conferences at their school.

“These are historically important times at Kearny, and we’re delighted to work with professional journalists as we cover a vibrant, diverse and changing school,” Oberle wrote in an e-mail to all 77 Kearny staff and faculty announcing the program.

The project’s coordinator is Leo E. Laurence, who works for San Diego News Service Inc., which provides area coverage for out-of-town media. Laurence holds a law degree and sometimes lectures on media law in the class. Roberto “Tony” Araiza, an associate editor of the San Diego News Service, also helps organize the project.

There are no textbooks that clearly fit the course. Laurence, Araiza and other SPJ members are teamed with Oberle to write specialized course curriculum, class handouts and homework assignments. These materials are available to other SPJ chapters that want to start similar high school projects.

“We appreciate the professionals coming in,” said Kearny Vice Principal Bill Lane. “The reality is that we need more support from community organizations.”

The success of the original high school experiment led to its expansion to Kearny, and the project continues to grow. San Diego’s primary newspaper, The Union-Tribune, has long provided internships to college students. Now Carol Goodhue, who organizes internships for the paper, is considering opening a program specifically for high school students in this SPJ project.

But as SPJ President Gordon “Mac” McKerral pointed out, the project isn’t just beneficial for kids who go on to become professional journalists.

“Yes, we want talented youths to pursue careers in journalism, and this (project) helps them better understand the craft at an earlier age,” he said. “But we also want young people to understand the significance journalism plays in maintaining a free and open society. The kids exposed to journalism who do not pursue a journalism career will better understand how it works, why it works and how, when it’s done the right way.”

Written by members of the San Diego News Service. Contact the news service (www.sdnewsservice.com) for more information about the High School Project.