Journalism takes students farther than football ever will

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Oh, there are angels out there. I met one!

Last week, I mentioned the outpouring of generosity from readers who purchased Winters Express gift subscriptions for the Wolfskill High School journalism students, who are producing the Wolfskill News & Review (for which I’m serving as consultant and head cheerleader). There were more gift subscriptions than journalism students, so the remainder is going to any student who wants them.

Last week, I also questioned if some company or person might want to fund Express subscriptions for the remainder of the Wolfskill students, and much to my surprise and delight, an angel with a paper route floated into our world and offered to bridge that gap.

And she doesn’t even live in Winters!

Wow. Just wow!

When Barbara Katz of Davis called to set up the subscriptions, all of us in the office were beaming. Her enthusiasm and generosity even touched the heart of my crusty, cranky boss, who added a nice touch by deciding to personalize this gift, and put each Wolfskill student’s name on the mailing labels — emphasizing that each student is an individual who matters and deserves the respect and support of their community.

Thank you, Barbara Katz — you remind me that the best way to deal with our current harsh social/political environment is to channel our angst and worry into kindness and generosity.

This lovely outpouring of support was juxtaposed by an opinion piece planned for the next Wolfskill News & Review, which will appear as an insert in either this week’s Express or the next. WN&R’s Elizabeth Siscel wrote a truly heart-wrenching column, challenging the practice of excluding Wolfskill students from participating in life-enriching experiences like sports and music, simply because of the belief that students in continuation high school must be punished.

She also asks a particularly poignant question: Why should these students — who are trying their hardest while often dealing with daunting life circumstances — be denied the normal experience and memory of attending their high school prom?

So, I’m asking, too. Somebody explain the logic of taking students who are already struggling, sometimes disengaged from the learning process (often due to unidentified and untreated learning disabilities or emotional struggles) and suffering from bruised self-esteem after having the “bad seed” label slapped onto their foreheads, and making their already difficult school experience even more negative and unpleasant? It’s called “kicking someone when they’re down.” It’s also called “ludicrous” and “cruel.”

We should be pouring extra attention and effort into those who are struggling, not throwing additional barriers and challenges in their paths. This is another reason I’m so passionate about seeing the Wolfskill News & Review continue to grow. This newspaper gives Wolfskill students something unique to their school, something the regular high school students don’t have. I want to see it become a source of pride and positive self-esteem, as well as a vehicle for encouraging skills that are key to succeeding in life, like critical thinking, time management, punctuality, thoroughness, tenacity, teamwork and attention to detail.

Journalism offers all these things, and it’s just bizarre that so many high schools have abandoned journalism and no longer have school newspapers. Surely, it’s because print journalism is viewed as obsolete in this environment of instant gratification, a 24-hour news cycle and social-media saturation, all at the convenience of our ever-tapping thumbs on our cell phones. Ironically, just when it seemed like journalism was going the way of typewriters, land lines and cassette tapes, the strange twist of current political events and the proliferation of “fake news” is bringing traditional journalism full circle.

We have a liar for a president. Period. We cannot believe much of anything he says (or tweets) and Congress is either unable or unwilling to stand firm against the maelstrom of nonsense that spews from the Trump Administration. The only filter for those lies is the press. Journalism. Oh yeah, it matters again. What happens when journalism disappears from high school education entirely? Can college level journalism be far behind? We need to be curious and skeptical and tenacious, and that is the lifeblood of journalism.

Consider the recent case of The Booster Redux, the school newspaper for Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Kan. The Redux staff became suspicious about the credentials of their incoming school principal, started digging into her background and discovered a résumé littered with discrepancies and outright lies. As a result of that reporting, that incoming principal quickly became an outgoing principal, thanks to the research and reporting by the Redux staff.

The fine work of the Redux staff illustrates the value of digging into a situation, exposing problems and instigating change, contrasted with the way we disseminate “news” now: by thumbing through our Facebook feeds on our cell phones, reposting stories after reading only the headlines, and calling it a day. Journalists don’t just regurgitate tasty tidbits. They must pay attention to what’s going on around them, and when they notice a suspicious thread, pull on it and pull on it to see what unravels. Usually, it’s the truth, and truth is our best weapon for defending freedom and democracy.

The Booster Redux staff learned that even student newspapers can have clout and be instruments of change, and in my little corner of the world, I’m hoping the Wolfskill High School students will discover the same. Maybe they don’t have a football team, but they do have a newspaper, and in the wider scheme of things, the skills they hone from journalism will take them infinitely farther in life than learning how to throw a football.

So, let’s revisit Elizabeth Siscel’s column. Why must continuation high school be a punitive experience? What purpose does it serve to deny Wolfskill students the normal teen experiences of sports, music and proms? Does it make them better people? Elizabeth bravely raises that question and I’m keenly interested in the answer, because I don’t think “kicking someone when they’re down” is good educational policy. Do you?

— Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and

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