Danielle Lehman: Dedicated Young Journalists Keep The Pepperbox Alive And Reporting – November 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Pepperbox Lives!

As many readers of the Arcata Eye know, Arcata High School cut its journalism class last year due to state budget cuts. The school paper, the Pepperbox, represented a decades-long tradition of print journalism and student voice in the community.

Teachers, parents, board members, administrators and most importantly, students were upset (even angered) by this decision. I wanted to give the students a chance to save the Pepperbox, so I agreed to be the volunteer advisor and run the entire journalism program as a club instead of as a class.

Over the summer, I was nervous. Would the students’ passion for this program still be there in August? Would enough students give up their scant free time to come in at lunch, after school, and on the weekends to save the paper?

In a world where newspapers are shutting down and as many as two thirds of young people get their news exclusively from the Internet, would the students even show up?

They did more than just show up; they rose up.

If you come to my classroom Tuesdays at lunch, you will see as many as thirty students working not for grades or for money. They are working for a cause — the right to have a voice in a world where they are not often heard.

The Pepperbox “kids” are some of the most creative, intelligent and hardworking individuals I have ever had the pleasure to work with in any setting. They balance school, sports, music, work, applying to college and some semblance of a social life.

These students don’t fit the stereotype. Sure, they jab text messages into their cell phones incessantly; they are loud; they listen to questionable music, and they think everyone over the age of 30 is “really, really old,” but they are not the apathetic, self-centered delinquents some would believe them to be.

The Pepperbox “kids” are some of the most creative, intelligent and hardworking individuals I have ever had the pleasure to work with in any setting. They balance school, sports, music, work, applying to college and some semblance of a social life.

Yet, they still squeeze in the enormous amount of time it takes to produce a quality newspaper.

To put it in perspective, we just finished editing, proofing and laying out the paper for 12 hours over two days this weekend, and I expect to see most of the club every day at lunch next week to finish up the final details.

Those hours don’t even include the hours they spend independently interviewing, photographing and writing. They came in after soccer games, after the SATs, after silent film orchestra performances. Like all good journalists, they parse over each other’s words, every word.

Why do they do this? (Why do I do this?) They work this hard because they have pride in the product they are creating.

It isn’t often that students create a product or something tangible to show for their efforts in public education today.

The students in journalism learn more about collaboration and leadership in just a few hours of putting the Pepperbox together than many students learn in an entire year of school.

As an educator, I am preparing students for a world that doesn’t even exist yet. They are learning those intangible applicable skills that are sometimes more important than testable knowledge.

This isn’t just about preparing students to be future journalists (although that in itself is a noble goal). The skills they acquire, hone and apply on the Pepperbox will transfer to their futures and arguably ours.

Simply put, student publications like the Pepperbox create leaders. Good leaders.

So read the latest volume of the paper and glimpse into the future. I have, and I can’t help but feel like we’re all in some very good hands.

Danielle Lehman is an English teacher at Arcata High School. She is currently the club advisor to the Pepperbox.

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