The importance of high school newspapers and the next generation of journalists made national news last week when student newspaper staff at a public high school in Kansas raised questions about the validity of their new principal's credentials, which ultimately led to her resignation.
Amador Valley and Foothill high schools have a history of strong journalism programs and news coverage.
With a staff of 27, Amador's student news site AmadorValleyToday.org rivals professional sites in its variety of stories and level of engagement. The Amadon print publication is offered on campus or mailed to subscribers' homes.
Foothill's program was strong for many years, but was unfortunately cut for this school year because of low student enrollment, according to school district spokesman Patrick Gannon.
The program was on the chopping block for the 2015-16 school year, but then-junior Kaitlyn Wang took to the internet, specifically Change.org. The petition she launched showed that, while only 20 students enrolled for the class, more than 250 felt the program was important enough to keep on the schedule. Kaitlyn and a host of others were able to keep the program, the In-Flight newspaper and FHSInflight.com alive for one more school year.
Kaitlyn and her 2015-16 In-Flight co-editor-in-chief, Arthur Hwang, wrote in the paper's final editorial: "Sadly, we are announcing today that InFlight News and the journalism class, a tradition of the school since 1973, will unfortunately be graduating with us this year. This will be the last issue of InFlight for the foreseeable future and Journalism will not be returning for 2016-2017. To have fought so hard last year to keep our class only to lose it this year is heartbreaking."
They went on in the editorial to say that programs such as German and choir were also affected and that it is "disheartening and disillusioning to have these programs shut down simply because they are supposedly the most disposable."
"Remember these are not just 'classes' and 'electives'; these are real, individual students, with passions and dreams."
The journalism program and faculty adviser, Mary Crawbuck, had a significant impact on Kaitlyn and Arthur, which included Arthur interning at the Pleasanton Weekly in 2015.
Now a student at Yale University, Arthur said the FHS journalism program "fundamentally changed how I view the world more objectively, more curiously and more empathetically. I grew as a student, person and citizen because I learned that journalism, most importantly, is a form of service."
"The FHS journalism program, for the three years that I was in it, allowed me to grow as a writer and taught me to pursue my curiosity," Kaitlyn said. "Mrs. Crawbuck, in her infinite wisdom, was an integral part of my high school career. I found a community there, and a passion for reporting and storytelling. It's the reason I'm studying journalism at NYU today."
Enough interest exists that Crawbuck said "a small group of very committed, driven and enthusiastic students has approached me about forming a journalism club. They wish to participate in writing and publishing a paper and a website, but do not have room in their schedules for the class."
But a class -- a program -- is very different from a club. A program allows more focus and purpose, as well as commitment.
Journalism is imperative to a healthy democracy, and it is important to groom the next generation of journalists. We do our part by offering summer internships to high-schoolers as well as college students.
"I think the journalism program is so incredibly important," Kaitlyn said. "... in this time of increasing 'fake news,' teaching students how to question things is an invaluable asset to any community. That's what journalism does: It encourages curiosity and finding the answers. It encourages a healthy amount of skepticism and a love for the truth."
Arthur added, "In a world in which many citizens have a hard time discerning 'fake news' and the truth, in a national climate in which the institution of journalism is increasingly delegitimized and discredited, I believe learning about the importance of purposeful, principled journalism and the press is really crucial, and I hope Foothill can revive the journalism program soon."
So do we.
Note: We are still accepting applications for summer internships from high-school students through April 24. Students should send a letter of interest and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our heartfelt condolences to the Pleasanton Unified School District community on the losses of Amador Valley High freshman Emma Haus and Pleasanton Middle School teacher Carla Boerman over the past week and a half. We appreciate that district officials provided grief counselors over spring break and that they continue to work with students and staff as they cope with the absence of these two people who were loved and will be missed by many.