Partner Project provides training at St. Cloud High School

Partner Project provides training at St. Cloud High School

St. Cloud High School journalism students and Partner Project instructors document St. Cloud Principal Nate Fancher as he competes in a team-building activity to kick off the training experience sponsored by JEA/NSPA. Fancher also held a press conference to help generate story ideas leading to student coverage during the workshop. (Photo by Kyle Carter, CJE)


The second of two 2018 visits took place at St. Cloud (Florida) High School Sept. 6-8 for the JEA/NSPA Partner Project. Four teacher-trainer volunteers conducted a free training for adviser Laura Fry and her staff. Students from broadcast, newspaper, website and yearbook staffs had the opportunity to learn core skills across print and online media from two days of instruction provided by Val Kibler, MJE, Brian Wilson, MJE, Kyle Carter, CJE, and Margie Raper, MJE.

Most students participating in the workshop were first-year staff members.

“Our students took every single piece of information like sponges. By the second day, they were ready to go out there and take photos and talk to people. It brought a lot of them out their shell and gave them the confidence that it is OK to make mistakes, try again, rewrite something more than once and collaborate with each other. I loved how their input was taken into consideration to guide instruction based on what the students shared when asked what they wanted to learn or improve,” Fry said.

The first day of the workshop was spent primarily on team-building and creating buy-in for the students since there were so many new students. Instructors also worked on reporting and interviewing basics as well as photography and multimedia storytelling. Day two focused on a press conference with St. Cloud Principal Nate Fancher so students could apply what they learned. Prior to the press conference, Kibler taught students the differences between journalistic writing and English class writing.

“Probably the most unique learning experience for the students was actually an impassioned speech Friday morning to the students about English writing versus journalistic writing. It wasn’t necessarily the words shared, but the passion behind them. It was like a switch had been flipped. I’m assuming this, but I think they saw how much [we] cared about what [we] were teaching. They wanted to care that much about something, too. That lesson was the first thing they heard Friday morning, and it set the tone for the rest of the day. They worked harder. They invested more. They realized what we were attempting, and they wanted to produce stories that day to show us they cared. To make us proud of them,” Raper said.

Students focused on issues impacting their school like the dress code and the heavy push to enroll as many students as possible in AP classes. The journalists took what they learned from their principal and wrote their first stories for their website, which was donated by School Newspapers Online (SNO).

“When we first started, I wasn’t sure how into the whole experience the group would be. But by the end of the day on Friday when they posted their first story to their website, they were literally cheering for each other. It was incredible to watch their transformation,” Wilson said.

It was also the first time working with the Partner Project for Raper, Wilson and Carter.

“There were times when I saw kids’ eyes light up and the excitement was palpable. In two days they went from skeptical and unsure of themselves to asking their principal hard-hitting questions and getting news stories on their website. The actual content they received will be invaluable to them as they get rolling on becoming a journalistic force. But maybe even more important is the fact that they are fired up to be reporters in a way that wasn’t possible before. Having a team come in and work specifically with your group helps you realize what you can achieve and helps you achieve it. You can see the questions and figure out the answers, where before, you might not have even known what the questions were,” Wilson said.

After the first day, students had made quite an impression on the instructors.

“I was thoroughly impressed by both Amanda Rosado and Natalie Chapman, especially Amanda’s desire to learn photography from the ground up. She began with an open mind and interest in the subject. Natalie learned new ways to interview during the two days we had with just the St. Cloud students and she used them to learn to write stories in a way that are both interesting and concise,” Carter said.

Partner Project instructors plan a program to meet the needs of the school’s journalism program based on multiple conversations with the adviser and principal prior to the experience. Kibler organized the Florida event. The final day of the workshop allows other media programs in the state to attend a free training and develop relationships with other student journalists in the area. The Saturday workshop allowed 62 additional area advisers and students to receive professional development and training.

Advisers participated in a separate strand that focused on topics like grading, media management and the importance of attending national JEA/NSPA conventions.

“For me, everything that was for the advisers was of benefit. I learned about more resources available at the JEA Curriculum site and about advertising, fundraising and certification opportunities. I was so excited to see our online paper and be able to celebrate with our students uploading their first story. It felt like placing a flag at the top of a mountain. I loved the opportunity to meet other advisers who are also in need of guidance and it made me feel good that we could offer this for them and their students,” Fry said.

Students were able to share ideas and meet fellow scholastic journalists over a pizza lunch provided by the Partner Project.

“On the final day, they get to meet students from all over the state that do the same thing they do, and learn more about how to do it better. It’s like practicing a sport for a couple of days, then playing the sport, not against other schools, but with other schools during the workshop,” Carter said.

Florida JEA State Director Renee Burke, MJE, helped plan the Saturday workshop.

“This was an amazing opportunity for students and advisers. It helped build their knowledge base and form friendships among their staffs and with other schools. I enjoyed seeing the students interact with one another and be so open to learning new ideas,” Florida JEA State Director Renee Burke said.

Another major goal of the Partner Project is connecting schools with ongoing resources JEA and NSPA offer.

“I think the students and advisers benefited from having group of high-quality instructors from outside our state to help enhance their learning. Often times students do not have the means to travel to national conventions to hear from people outside of Florida. While I know we have outstanding advisers in our state, it’s nice to have that variety of instruction. It is also reassuring to hear that other schools have the same issues, trends and magical moments that we have here. I have always appreciated that other advisers often validated my teaching by emphasizing the same things I did,” Burke said.

To date, nine different instructors who work with a variety of scholastic media have served as trainers for the Partner Project program.

“I loved how cohesive our team was, considering we had never really interacted before. From the students’ perspective, they were getting an incredibly well-oiled machine, even when we were tailoring the program on the fly to fit their needs. JEA and NSPA assembled a group of advisers who are incredibly passionate about what they do, and I have no doubt that this happens every time. If you are a new adviser and want to jump-start your program in a way that is almost impossible otherwise, you should definitely apply,” Wilson said. “This is a genius idea; it’s too bad that we aren’t able to have some advisers do this type of thing on a regular basis. Imagine sending a special-ops journalism force to a different school campus every week!”

Additional information, including the application for future Partner Project visits, is available here. Applications are due April 1, 2019 for the 2019-2020 school year.

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