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Nikiski students make school papers thrive on North Road

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Nikiski Middle-Senior High School is the only central Kenai Peninsula high school with a student paper. It even has two.

Friday, the February edition of The North Roader came out. The tabloid-size paper has front page stories about snocross races in Soldotna, arsenic levels in the school water supply and student Zach Hall's qualification for the Junior National Cross-Country Ski Races.

Independently, middle-schoolers produce the Junior High News, an online publication.

Both are the products of journalism classes at the school.

"The reason, really for the class is to produce the newspaper," said Carla Jenness, the journalism teacher for the senior high.

Doing a newspaper is an excellent way to teach and reinforce skills such as communication, analysis and command of the written English language, she said.

The paper is now in its third year.

The journalism course is a semester-long, upper-level language arts elective, and students are allowed to take it more than once. This semester the class alternates with a film class, so the students only spend half their time in journalism. About 25 students, mostly seniors, are in the course at this time.

Senior Zara Lounsbury, this semester's editor, said putting out the paper is more chaotic right now than she would like. But she is a veteran of past semesters and confidently lists the content: community happenings, school news, sports, opinion and digests of world and national news with a local angle.

The hardest part of her job, she said, is teaching a new crop of student journalists how to write in the clear, objective style of reporters, setting aside the emotions and opinions adolescent writers tend to produce.

The reporters experience some of the same frustrations as their adult counterparts, and they are willing to tackle controversies.

Becky Taylor wrote about arsenic when the school got word its water supply will fail new federal arsenic guidelines to be phased in later this decade. Although what she learned ultimately was reassuring, it took her two days to reach the person at the Kenai Peninsula Borough who could answer her questions, she said.

Samantha Pizzuto reported about a hot topic for teens: the dress code.

"It was a big controversy here. It was not enforced as it should be," she said.

"Some people don't abide by it. ... Some support it, and some don't."

The class goal is to put out an edition every month; most are eight to 12 pages long.

Doing so involves not just research, interviews and writing, but also editing, photography and computer layout work. The students use the school's Dell computers in the lab they share with the yearbook. When each edition is complete, the students e-mail it to a printer and wait for the shipped copies to return.

The newspaper costs money, and the students cover expenses just as commercial newspapers do, by selling advertising. If they come up short, Principal Robin Williams pitches in, Jenness said.

The class prints about 200 copies and distributes them at school. If they have a chance, the students sometimes leave a stack at M&M Market.

In addition, they post stories from completed editions at the school Web site at www.kpbsd. k12.ak.us/NikMH/. To access The North Roader archive, click on the "News" link at the bottom of the frame. It will pop up a menu that includes the newspaper.

Another link on that menu leads to the Junior High News, which has its own Web page that can be reached directly at www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/nikmh/jrhighnews/index.htm.

The middle school staff meets upstairs with teacher Scott Anderson. His class is a quarter long. Students are preparing their fourth and final edition but, like the upperclassmen, they can retake the course.

Anderson's reporters may be young, but they take their work seriously.

"We even have little press passes over there," said chief editor and eighth-grader Laura Rooper, gesturing at the laminated cards hung in a corner. "They let us wander the halls and interview people without getting in trouble."

Anderson's students brainstorm story ideas in lively sessions, tossing around topics, listing them on the board and parceling out assignments.

The latest list included the ski season, the spelling bee and telling the school the newsletter is being featured in the Peninsula Clarion. One student suggested looking into whether Palm Pilots can replace books. The class also opted to write an editorial about recent studies suggesting adolescents learn better if school days start later.

Rooper has to review the work of her classmates and supervise the front page. Sometimes telling people to change what they've turned in can be tough, she said.

"It's only a junior high paper, so they shouldn't take it too seriously," she said. "I don't want to hurt feelings."

The end result gets a lot of positive feedback from students and staff, she said.

"A lot are really interested," she said, "because the stories are about them."



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