An army of middle and high school journalists and their teachers invaded the Russell House Student Union on the University of South Carolina’s campus on Oct. 7 for the annual South Carolina Scholastic Press Association fall conference.
These scholastic journalists and advisers took classes taught by professional journalists, scholastic journalism advisers, university journalism professors and college media students.
“I bring my newspaper staff to the SCSPA conference every year because it opens their eyes to the possibilities in journalism,” Brashier Middle College Charter HS online adviser Katie Yon said. “Too often, they get stuck in the mindset of journalism being a school activity, and the conference helps them see their stories can change the world if they work hard enough.”
This year’s conference highlight was the keynote speaker, Mary Beth Tinker, plaintiff in the historic Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court case.
The case helped establish an open forum in high schools, giving high school students free speech in their writing. The Supreme Court ruled, “neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speed or expresion at the schoolhouse gate.”
“The chance to hear Mary Beth Tinker discuss the role of the First
Amendment in the lives of student journalists provided both students and advisers with
an amazing opportunity to hear from someone who faced a situation much like those we face in our schools,” Lugoff-Elgin HS newsmagazine and yearbook adviser Shannon Team said. “It motivated my students to take on tough topics and speak out about issues they are facing.”
The awards ceremony provided a time to celebrate the work of literary magazine and yearbook staffs and to recognize the 2013 Bruce E Konkle Rising Star nominees and winner.
“Seeing our magazine editor, Ashlee Russell, accept Best Literary Magazine in South Carolina was a joyful moment for me and my students,” Nation Ford HS adviser Chuck Walker said.
The Rising Star award is given annually to an adviser with one to five years experience advising. This year’s winner, Angela Childs-Kindred of James Island Charter High School, helped turn her school’s failing yearbook into a profitable publication within two years of advising the staff.
Both students and advisers see the benefits of attending SCSPA. With students getting to interact with other journalists, they learn new ideas and get reinvigorated to work on the publication.
“It’s an inspiring start to the year. We see other publications, and we learn from their good ideas and tweak what we’re doing. Also, we’re far enough in to the fall that we know what our issues and concerns are, and other staffs, advisers, and experts are right there ready and willing to help us solve our problems,” Laurens District 55 HS
newspaper adviser Amy George said. “It’s a great place to network.”
While the students loved to network and learn from professional journalists, the Tinker Tour stole the show.
“We make decisions about what to cover in the newspaper, and sometimes we have to make hard decisions,” Yon said. “I am fortunate to work at a school that supports First Amendment rights for students, but at the same time, we are cautious not to take that for granted and not to abuse those rights.”
Everyone involved in the conference seemed excited to have the chance to hear Mary Beth Tinker speak and speak with someone whose case is taught in many journalism classrooms.
“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to interact with living history that positively affected their lives and protected their rights,” Wando yearbook adviser Phillip Caston said. “Now more than ever it is important to remember the impact Tinker brought to our lives, and I think students will realize how special this experience will be.”
Conference participants took home valuable lessons about the specifics of their individual media. Advisers said they and their staffs returned from SCSPA more energized.
“I immediately noticed a renewed focus on professionalism and accuracy,” Walker said. “My students came back with a stronger sense of the vital role that journalists play in a free country.”