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Teaching Tips

We are collecting tips from high school newspaper advisers nationwide on how to run student publications and deal with the issues from administrators, students and parents.

11 ideas for general school coverage

From participants at the 2010 Reynolds Institute at Kent State University.

  1. How do you say goodbye? Each year we have about 10 foreign exchange students. Rather than the typical where do you come from, and why did you come here. Get the story on what it took to say goodbye to their family and friends for a year. You could include a sidebar from students/families that host the exchange student as to how do they prepare for a yearlong houseguest. AFS chapter presidents or guidance counselors would be good to talk to for information on preparing the family/student. In the event of an election year, you could ask the foreign exchange students to explain the government/election process in their country—or lack there of.
  2. AFS: Foreign exchange program representative speaking on the process of coming to the United States for the first time and learning a foreign language outside of strictly the classroom. Sources: Linguistics professor from college to demonstrate the similarities between English and other languages based on derivatives of a word and influences.
  3. Picture Perfect: This may be more beneficial to underclassmen, but a story on how seniors/families decide on a photographer and photography packages for their senior pictures. Interview area photographers about their style, price, education/background. Follow a student through the process of selecting outfits, preparing for his or her big day. A parent may also be a good interview along with the yearbook adviser/staff member(s) about what they require.
  4. Small Schools: Can a tiny school effectively educate its students with such a low population? One of the main issues facing some schools is the continuously dwindling population. Students could look at historical statistics for recent years to see how the population has changed, then talk to teachers and administrators about the issues this presents to the school. They also should talk to officials with state department of  education. Smaller class sizes are usually said to be a good thing, but how small is too small? At what point will closing the school become a real possibility?
  5. Relocation: The decision made by the local campus principal to partially isolate seventh and eighth graders in an old, outdated building for the next school year. Students would be able to interview the local principal and district superintendent, the teachers affected by this change, the students in seventh through twelfth grades to elicit their feelings on the new, improved plan, and the school board members. (Actually, this is an old, recycled plan, but very few people were around when it was attempted more than 25 years ago.) Students could also call the EPA to check on the potential presence of asbestos in the old building and the American Disability Association to check the bathrooms’ compliance with the ADA requirements.
  6. School Reorganization:What has been the impact of the reorganization among staff and faculty at your school? Beginning this year, ours will move to a “middle school” model. In the past, we have had elementary teachers for grades k-6 and content teachers for English, social studies, math and science who are responsible for grades 7-12. This year there will be new teachers who teach only grades 6-8, which will enable high school teachers to teach more elective courses. There have also been a lot of room changes, both for teachers and administrators. Students could interview teachers regarding the moves they made, how they like their new classrooms and how they like the new flexibility they have with more upper level teachers. They could also interview administrators and students regarding the same topics. For outside experts, they could interview education professors at local colleges regarding the middle school model.
  7. Four Days a Week: Some schools have gone to the 4-day school week as a cost cutting solution to budget woes. What are the effects of a 4-day school week on grades, attendance rates, and graduation rates? Would your school district ever consider this as a cost cutting solution to budget problems? Sources: Internet research on schools that have gone to the 4 day school week (and then phone calls to some of those schools for interviews), principal, superintendant.
  8. How do students express their faith at school (if they do)? Example: In Central Florida, many students carry a Bible in their backpack. We have 3 faith-based clubs at our school (all Christian clubs). Have reporters interview students from several faiths (i.e. Christian, Buddhist, Islam, Hindu, Jewish, etc.). Questions might include – Would you like to see a moment of silence during morning show time, so that you could pray or meditate? Would you like an opportunity to dialogue at school with students of other faiths? Is “See You at the Pole” an important event in your school life? (I’m sure if the journalists discuss this they will come up with some other questions). It might be interesting to interview the Philosophy, Religion, or Social Studies teachers for their reactions to students expressing their faith. Surely, several area spiritual leaders who work with you would have something to add. Also, reporters should contact their school district spokesperson or read for themselves the county’s policies about practicing faith in schools.
  9. Communication: Teacher/student communication – how much is too much? Our school has caught two teachers in inappropriate relationships with students in recent years. We are pushing for more ways to communicate with students, and that can be a good thing, but schools also want to find ways to monitor that communication so it doesn’t cross a line. One of the teachers is now in jail and the case was highly publicized so students can research it. The other teacher ended up marrying the young girl after he was removed from his job. No criminal charges were ever filed because she denied that anything happened so the only “evidence” was student gossip. At the same time, many teachers need to have several ways to be in touch with their students and sometimes e-mail, texting, etc. are the best ways to do so.
  10. Cops at School : The school resource officer (the sheriff assigned to the school). The story would answer the students’ questions why is he here, who pays his salary, on the average how many issues does he deal with in a day/week/month? What rights/restrictions does he have in the school as opposed to out on the street? What are the safety issues that are involved with the fact that he is always carrying a loaded gun in school? Sources: school resource officer, principal, various students who have had interactions with the officer.
  11. School families: What is it like to attend the same school in which your parent(s) work? Sources: Students and school employees who are in the same family.