Arcata High Journalism Class, Newspaper Restored – June 29, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sarah Han

Eye Community Editor

ARCATA HIGH – Once in a while, someone asks me how Arcata High’s newspaper, The Pepperbox, got its name. Three years ago, when I was just starting out as a reporter, someone told me that the title was quite literal.

There was once a box in the library in which students submitted comments to school staff. It was called the Pep Box, as in spirit, liveliness, and enthusiasm, and it served as a primitive channel for the student voice. When the newspaper was started 83 volumes ago in 1928, instead of taking up a boring, conventional AHS tiger-related title like The Growler or The Tiger Times, the founding staff chose The Pepperbox, a symbolic stepping stone towards its becoming the voice of the student body that it is today.

Of course, I have no idea if all that is true, but it seems fitting, and now, as the former Editor-in-Chief of The Pepperbox, I feel obligated to pass on the tale, hoping that it will inspire future Pepperboxers the way it did me, for years to come.

The current edition of the AHS Pepperbox.

And now, I can finally be confident that The Pepperbox will actually exist for years to come. It’s official. After a year-long struggle with failing resources, The Arcata High Pepperbox has been reinstated as a class, rising out of the rubble of budget cuts and apathy as an untarnished symbol of hope in these troubled financial times.

As some of you know, last year the administration cut the journalism class, despite piercing Pepperbox protests. We spoke out to the community and found support everywhere (shout out to Marcy Burstiner who wrote in the North Coast Journal in eloquent support of us). The Arcata Eye also had extensive coverage of The Pepperbox’s plight. Yet, the administration told prospective students to drop the class, disregarded true enrollment numbers and cut the course.

That summer, Danielle Lehman, AHS English teacher and journalism advisor, stepped up and asked me to run the class with her as a club the upcoming year, which meant that there would be no class time, structure or organization to build the paper.

To say the least, it wasn’t the ideal situation but both Mrs. Lehman and I were determined to keep it alive. We weren’t going to let this be the year that The Pepperbox failed for the first time since the twenties and we weren’t going to let this valuable program die out.

The Pepperbox has provided countless students with skills that they will carry with them for the rest of their educations, careers, and lives. All my fellow editors that graduated that year, after helping me protest for the perpetuation of journalism, moved on to utilize what they had learned in the real world. Ask any of them, and they’ll tell you it has been one of the most valuable experiences of our lives.

So Lehman and I—along with a handful of proactive and motivated students—set out to publish the paper, and prove to the school and community that we’re worth a class. But for us students, what with sports, orchestra, Advanced Placement classes, homework, play rehearsals and everything else, this was no easy task.

For anyone else, being the successful advisor for The Pepperbox, especially outside of a designated class, might’ve been impossible. But Mrs. Lehman did it, and she did it right. She is also a supportive wife and mother with a husband and two baby girls (one of whom just had out of heart surgery and is thankfully recovering well) and a high school English teacher for Freshman English Opportunities and Advanced Placement English 3 (a dichotomy that speaks for itself).

I still don’t know how she managed it all. It’s no wonder she received the Humboldt County Excellence in Teaching Award this year. Her dedication inspired us all. She was always in it for the students.

In response to her enthusiasm, reporters, photographers, editors and students all united for the cause. We came in at lunch, after school, weekends, holidays. We somehow organized a paper without seeing each other for days and weeks. We broke the stereotype of teenage apathy. We printed four amazing issues in a revolutionized tabloid format.

The administration had no choice but to heartily reinstate our class for the upcoming year. We did it.

Now I can go off to college in the fall and rest easy (not that I’ll be resting much there), knowing that The Pepperbox will continue. I’d like to take this time to thank the community for their vital support, and to impart this last piece of advice onto future Pepperboxers and all students anywhere: don’t underestimate yourselves. With passion, initiative, and the help of a community like Arcata, anything is possible.


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