Writing in the Real World
Writer / Janelle Morrison
Back in the day, working on the school paper meant that you got to cover the sports games and school performances from the good seats, and it also meant that you got the coveted “hall pass” that permitted you to roam the hallways while in pursuit of the next big story or interview without any flack from the hall monitors.
The student newspaper has long been a cherished tradition at many of the nation’s schools. It allowed students to take initiative and develop their writing, critical thinking and photography skills. It also provided lessons in ethics and responsibility. Writing for the local school paper also provided a public forum for debating the issues with a sense of respect and intellect.
Over the years, budgetary constraints and the popularity of digital media, Facebook, Instagram, etc., among younger generations have attributed to the demise of many traditional school newspapers or print journalism classes at the high school level. Without an actual journalism class operating a newspaper, the students are no longer receiving grades for their work and have less incentive to produce articles.
So, is this the end of school-produced publications and the impending demise of the print publication industry? Absolutely not.
Two local teachers, Mikayla Koharchik and Blake Mellencamp, who teach language arts at Zionsville Middle School, decided that it was time for a student-operated print publication to make a comeback. Mellencamp applied for a grant through the Zionsville Education Foundation and was awarded $1,200 for the Writing in the Real World initiative. This project will allow the seventh-grade students at ZMS to self-publish their very own magazine this fall.
Mellencamp, who drafted the grant, said that the funding will cover printing 500 full-color copies of the student’s magazine.
“We will create student teams of designers, writers, and editors and incorporate the students’ work into the publication,” Mellencamp explained. “I’m taking a sharp shift in my classroom and getting away from traditional ‘school’ types of writing and getting into ‘real life’ types of writing.”
In lieu of information essays and persuasive essays, the students will be required to produce news articles and even asked to write op-eds. They will be writing book reviews and other creative writing pieces that are typically read in professional publications. They will be writing about subjects such as social studies and science, making the project cross-curricular. The project will likely include the students learning about the revenue generating aspect of publications and will be selling ads to the local community to give them the real-world experience of dealing with advertisers and ad sales. The design students will also have the opportunity to design and build an advertisement from scratch and learn how to convey the client’s message in his/her advertisement.
Koharchik explained that at ZMS, the teachers work in teams. “We work with the science and social studies teachers, so our goal is that the students’ writing for those subjects would also carry over into this publication. The students could tie in what they are learning in social studies to create articles or political cartoons and other things beyond just writing.”
The student-produced magazine will be completed by the end of the first semester and will be approximately 12 pages, including articles on language arts and others that will be dedicated to the aforementioned subjects. The students will also launch an online version of their publication that will feature more students throughout the school year and allow their writing to be published beyond the capacity of the print version. With 300 students, the challenge to publish all of the students’ work will be resolved with the online version of their publication. Mellencamp is already seeking alternative funding for publishing a potential volume two for the following semester.
“What is selected for the magazine’s content will be student driven,” Mellencamp emphasized. “Just like any writer or author, I want them to choose something that they are passionate about. They will be supported by their teachers, peers and their community. I want them to get to that place where they are almost more author than student in this project. Having their work viewed by an authentic audience transforms them from being a student to having the identity as a writer, especially when they really own the process. ”
Both teachers will be relying heavily on the support of the parent network, local business community and residents to encourage the students and to help spread the word when the website has launched and the magazine has gone to print. They will also be maximizing the positive influence of social media outlets while building their online presence. They will be teaching the students how to properly use social media and instilling ethics and responsible use of disseminating information.
Mellencamp plans to attend educational conferences where he will discuss the results of this project with his peers from other districts, including the benefits and challenges of doing a project like this one.
“We want the kids to feel empowered and excited and to keep submitting to the website,” Mellencamp stressed. “When students are empowered, assume autonomy and are able to write things that they feel impassioned about, the results are good compelling work. I think there’s capacity to build an audience here.”
Koharchik added that they will be bringing in industry professionals to speak with the students about the various aspects of publishing. “As we are educators, we are seeking professional input, giving the kids feedback and helping them look through the process at each stage,” she said. “The students will also learn to critique one another. That’s another component of our standards. We want kids to help critique and revise each other’s work.
“There is so much opportunity for learning and for failure. The students will have to figure it out throughout the course of the project, and that’s why bringing in the professionals will be such a help because while we can guide, we do want to be hands off. They will have the information and the tools, and they will have to apply those. This is in construction, and we are learning together along the way with the students, but we think that this is a great opportunity for not just having an authentic audience but for learning how to be a problem solver. We have the Strong in Every Way initiative here at the Zionsville schools, and one of the ways to become stronger and more confident is by teaching that we solve our problems. We can fail and mess up, but we can overcome our failures with the tools that we have been given.”
As a community partner and supporter of Zionsville Schools, Zionsville Monthly is proud to announce that we will be partnering with these two teachers and their students on this project. Our magazine will be conducting a contest for the student writers this fall. The students will submit their works, and the selected writer will be featured in our December issue. In addition to being interviewed and published in our publication, the student writer will also be compensated for his/her work. Stay tuned for more information to come on this incredible project and the details of the competition.