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School paper more than paper, ink

Mary Berquist
Worcester County Times

June 30, 2011

Mary Berquist
Walter Cronkite, the long-time CBS Evening News anchor, once said, "Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy; it is democracy."

It is not by accident that the writers of the Constitution of the United States of America included the freedom of press in the First Amendment. Our society depends upon our press not only to inform the masses, but also to serve as an honorary fourth branch of the government.

Fulfilling a watchdog function, American media ensures the balance of powers in the branches of our federal government. It carries with it the ethical responsibility of bringing forth the truth to the American people so that we may truly have a government by the people. It is, as Cronkite said, essential to our democratic process.

The Stephen Decatur High School newspaper, The Hawk, has served the student body since the 1950s.

It has been and remains a vital informational tool, keeping the student body and surrounding community informed about important news, student achievement, and upcoming events.

The journalism program at Stephen Decatur High School is composed of two English electives: Introduction to Publications and Newspaper Production. In the pre-requisite course, Introduction to Publications, students study the history of American media, ethics, Supreme Court law, writing for various journalistic genres, layout, photography, and business principles.

In the hands-on learning environment of Newspaper Production, students run all facets of publication -- from writing to business, to photography to layout. Students refine listening, speaking, writing, and editing skills in an active and engaging process.

Our day to day operations involve following leads, photographing news, writing, editing, contacting ad clients, designing ads, and working on layout. Needless to say, every day in our classroom is a busy one. With the responsibility of an accurate and enticing news publication on their shoulders, students learn responsibility, and they become organized and effective leaders.

Students enrolled in the journalism program also have the opportunity to attend the annual Columbia Scholastic Press Association Convention at Columbia University in New York City. The convention offers valuable learning sessions conducted by some of the most prominent journalists in the country. Columbia University also offers the opportunity for newspapers to be critiqued by professors, as well as by prestigious journalists. For three out of the past five years, The Hawk has been recognized by Columbia University as either a Gold Medalist recipient or a Silver Medalist recipient for outstanding journalism and business management.

Courses like Introduction to Publications and Newspaper Production allow students to find their voice through the power of words. Both classes are designed to support the English curriculum by providing instruction in and opportunities for high interest reading, vocabulary study, and precision writing, while preparing students for the ever-changing world of journalism.

Thomas Jefferson said, "Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe." Students who participate in Stephen Decatur High School's journalism program get to acquire first-hand experience in freedom of speech and of the press. By informing the public and the student body, and by expounding and commenting upon national and world issues, our students become an integral part of the democratic process.

Journalism programs are offered at each of our high schools: Pocomoke, Snow Hill, and Stephen Decatur.

If you have any questions about our program, please contact the school at 410-641-2171. For system-wide information, you may contact Donna Main, coordinator of instruction for English.

Berquist is a journalism teacher at Stephen Decatur High School.

Copyright 2011. www.delmarvanow.com is parent site of the Worcester County Times.

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