Amidst all the reports of school budget cuts, teacher layoffs and low test scores, leave it to some students at Media Academy to rewrite the story. Last month, the high school's student newspaper, the Green & Gold, took fourth place in a national journalism contest, beating out several private schools and schools with top-ranking California state test scores.
The winners were announced on April 16 at the National Scholastic Press Association/Journalism Education Association's National Convention in Anaheim.
"It's very nice to get validation from an outside source," said Lisa Shafer, the paper's adviser. "I really don't think the students know how good they are. We do have real news, and we go after it."
But it gets better. Two students, who participated in the WriterCoach Connection program at Media last year, took home top prizes in a write-off contest with more than 1,000 other students. Kim Mejia-Cuellar, a junior, earned an "Excellent" ranking in the news writing category while her twin sister Gloria "Jack" won an "Honorable Mention" for editorial writing at the conference.
"I felt really proud," says Jack, reflecting on the experience from the newsroom at Media. "Comparing ourselves to other kids that have more money and better resources and seeing that their papers weren't that good, I learned it doesn't matter where you're from. You can still be a great journalist."
Both girls wrote their pieces about the "Parent Trigger", a proposed school reform concept that would allow parents to force public schools into closing or becoming charter schools, if they failed to perform. Their submissions were judged on a broad range of criteria, from attention-grabbing leads, use of active verbs and interesting language to original angles and lack of errors.
That's where the impact of WriterCoach Connection can be seen. "I think it gave me more confidence in my writing," said Jack, remarking on how coaching has influenced her writing on the paper. "Knowing that someone else is going to read your work -- it drives you to write better."
According to Shafer, students care more about the craft of writing than they did in her first years at Media Academy, before WriterCoach Connection had a presence on campus. "It's hard to separate what part of that is WriterCoach Connection and what is the influence of a strong 10th grade writing teacher, Sonja Totten-Harris," says Shafer, who has been the paper's faculty adviser for five years. "I am convinced it is both, as the WCC program is especially successful at Media because we have an English Language Arts teacher who cares so much about students, about writing and about WriterCoach Connection."
"I think the students are more open to receiving feedback on their writing and making revisions to it than they were in my first two years at Media, " Shafer added. "It used to be students would turn in a first draft and expect it to be published without having to do any more work on it. Now, they are more comfortable with the rewrites and rewrites and rewrites that good writing and good reporting often take."
Kim Mejia-Cuellar concurred. "My writer coach definitely influenced me to get my writing published," says Kim. "She encouraged me to unleash the power of my words and supported me along the way. She also was genuinely interested in helping me become a better writer. Thank you, Kathy Kahn!"
Both Mejia-Cuellar sisters are also active in Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia writing program and their school's debate team. "My writer coach encouraged me to go to 826 Valencia's writing camp over the summer and ever since I've been involved with the organization, " Jack said. "It's changed my life."
Check out the award-winning Green & Gold and the photos below of Media students and advisor Lisa Shafer at the convention in Anaheim.
L. to r., Media Academy Juniors Kim Mejia-Cuellar and Gloria "Jack" Mejia-Cuellar are flanked by Sophomores Katelyn Bauzon and Laura Lem as they head out for the conference loaded with copies of their newspaper to share.