Partner Project provides training at Omaha South Magnet High School

Partner Project provides training at Omaha South Magnet High School

Omaha South Magnet High School Principal Ruben Cano holds a press conference with students from the newspaper and yearbook staffs who participated in one of five JEA Partner Projects this year. Fifty-two students from South spent three days learning how to combine their media and start populating their website more frequently. “The students at South were very eager to improve their reporting and worked hard to get a lot of news uploaded on their SNO site over the course of the workshop,” trainer Val Kibler, MJE, said.

The Omaha, Nebraska Partner Project was held at Omaha South Magnet High School Sept. 12-14. Newspaper adviser Aaron Stepp along with his yearbook colleague Kim Wheeler and their 52 students hosted JEA teacher trainers Valerie Kibler, MJE, from Harrisonburg, Virginia; Erin Sucher-O’Grady, CJE, from St. Louis, Missouri and Mark Hilburn, MJE, from neighboring Millard West High School in Omaha. 

The workshop began with Kibler leading a few ice breaker activities to get the large group prepared for merging the yearbook and newspaper staffs into one Omaha South student media.

“Our primary focus for this Partner Project was to get all the students to populate their website with stories about their school,” Kibler said. “They already had a SNO (School Newspapers Online) website in place, it was just a matter of shifting the philosophy a little bit more to web-first thinking.”

SNO typically donates a year of hosting to Partner Project recipient schools, but since South already had their website up, SNO personnel instead will be conducting an educational digital workshop to help continue the digital media growth.

Students spent Friday morning learning about finding better coverage in their school, prepping for solid interviews, composing strong photos and reporting for different media. After a hot dog bar lunch provided by Stepp and Wheeler, the student journalists spent the afternoon completing interviews and taking pictures around the school for their online stories, followed by a detailed lesson about the First Amendment and student press law organized by JEA Scholastic Press Rights leader Lori Keekley, MJE. Keekley’s lesson was used at each of the five Partner Project locations this year.

On day two, students spent the morning learning about how to write their stories and construct stronger leads and headlines along with developing questions for their principal, Ruben Cono, who ate lunch with the team and then held a press conference for over an hour. The remainder of the instruction centered around how to post material to the SNO site and workshop time to coach writing and posting.

The Partner Project helped show our students how to be journalists from start to finish. Val, Erin, and Mark helped our students understand the whole process of telling a story and sharing news. I can’t pick just one part of the workshop that was most beneficial for the students because it was all crucial to the process of telling a story. They received immediate and direct feedback while writing their stories. Our students were thrilled to hear from experts who came to Omaha just for them,” Wheeler said.

Stepp and Wheeler are thrilled by the advancement they saw in their students over the three days. 

“It was amazing to watch our students not only take ownership of their journalistic abilities, but to witness the development of camaraderie, teamwork, curiosity and pride as they saw their work published. We are excited about the path that Omaha South’s Journalism Program is now on, thanks to the JEA Partner Project,” Stepp said.

Hilburn was particularly gratified by seeing the students publish to their website for the first time.

“Helping them create story ideas, edit their stories and publish their first story is something I won’t forget. Seeing their excitement to read their stories online for the first time was what this experience for me was all about. I hope this only invigorated them and lit that spark that they could continue to do this on their own,” Hilburn said.

Saturday, students from nearby schools joined the group at South for convention-style sessions on asking better questions, sports photography and cutline writing, branding and marketing their publications, and creating alternative story forms.

“The partner project was a truly enriching experience. The connections we made with the enthusiastic advisers at Omaha South Public High School make me feel inspired about the teachers who are working with, and growing, student journalists in Nebraska. I look forward to seeing their progress, and maintaining continued support for the advisers and students at OSPHS,” Sucher-O’Grady said.

The workshop in Omaha ran simultaneously with three of the four other JEA Partner Projects held this year. Eppler Junior High in Utica, Michigan, Kingsbury High School in Memphis, Tennessee, and Norte Vista High School in Riverside, California all experienced separate trainings, while the first Partner Project was held Aug. 22-24 in Gautier, Mississippi.

The application form for the JEA Partner Project will open in 2020. More information is available here.

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