Board of director candidates share statements for upcoming JEA election

Board of director candidates share statements for upcoming JEA election

Review 2023 election information here.

2023-25 term slate of candidates

President:

  • Valerie Kibler, MJE, Harrisonburg (Virginia) High School

Vice President: 

  • Justin Daigle, MJE, Brighton (Colorado) High School

Educational Initiatives Director:

  • Shari Adwers, MJE, Loudoun Valley High School, Purcellville, Virginia
  • Annette Deming, CJE, Nashua (New Hampshire) High School North

Director-at-large (two open positions):

  • Louisa Avery, MJE, The American School in London
  • Shari Chumley, CJE, Tupelo (Mississippi) High School
  • Josh Clements, MJE, San Marcos (California) High School
  • Michelle Corbett, CJE, Indian Trail High School and Academy, Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Sandra Coyer, MJE, Puyallup (Washington) High School
  • Brett Deever, Red Oak (Texas) High School
  • Charles Erikson, CJE, La Sierra High School, Riverside, California
  • Melissa Falkowski, CJE, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida
  • Brenda Field, MJE, Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, Illinois
  • Sam Hanley, CJE, Southport High School, Indianapolis
  • Jessica Hunziker, MJE, Castle View High School, Castle Rock, Colorado
  • Ted Kiefat, Proctor High School, Duluth, Minnesota
  • Debra Klevens, CJE, Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Missouri
  • Michael Malcom-Bjorklund, CJE, Columbia High School, Lake City, Florida
  • Jim McCrossen, Blue Valley Northwest High School, Overland Park, Kansas
  • Christi Opiela, Hallettsville (Texas) High School
  • Karla Shotts, Englewood (Colorado) High School

Candidate statements

Candidate for president

Valerie Kibler, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I have served on multiple state and national boards during my career for one simple reason: Someone took a chance on me and helped me out when I was first beginning as a journalism teacher and I know it’s my duty to give back.

JEA has so much to offer our community of advisers. Our curriculum is our premiere product that comes with membership. It’s our responsibility to make sure it is continually evolving and representing common pedagogical practices in our profession. We have the best product on the market, but in order to stay at the top, we must continue to grow and showcase/market our strong curriculum.

Our conventions in partnership with NSPA are another of our top programs. We must continue to improve upon the convention experience so we attract more students/advisers, and we must develop new concepts that allow those who cannot attend conventions the same opportunities for educational growth.

Our membership needs to reflect more closely the number of programs we have across the country. We must reach teachers and foster their continued professional development as journalism educators. We know journalism advisers are often the only people in their buildings who do what they do. We need to welcome all these teachers into our community.

You don’t have to be a certain age or have a magic number of years in the classroom to start giving back. You just have to be willing. That’s what it will take to help JEA grow into an even greater organization: everyone having the courage to take the first step and start giving back by bringing someone else along.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

There are multiple challenges in our journalism classrooms today, but the one that’s having the most impact is teachers choosing to leave advising and/or the teaching profession altogether for a wide variety of reasons.

The pandemic was often used as an excuse to cram multiple courses/levels together into one classroom or to eliminate programs entirely. While censorship can also be listed among the greatest challenges, eliminating programs using the pandemic or other reasons as an excuse winds up being one of the greatest forms of hidden censorship we face.

We need to focus our efforts on recruiting young people into the profession we love and find so rewarding, but even more importantly, we need to convince young people of the importance of keeping scholastic journalism programs alive and flourishing in our democracy. When students thrive in our classrooms, we should be encouraging them to consider a career in journalism education.

We can work harder to solve this issue by partnering more closely with collegiate journalism programs and scholastic press associations to bridge the gap between scholastic journalism and the collegiate world. Likewise, we need to work together with the collegiate world and the professional world to show students the clear pathway(s) to a career in journalism education or professional journalism.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I have spent much of my career volunteering and giving back to the community that helped me find my niche in the journalism classroom. But it’s my variety of experiences which make my voice an important one.

I began teaching in a rural community with a very low socioeconomic status. I have a special place in my heart for kids like those I worked with who got to experience conventions/travel for the first time in their lives and worked their butts off to pay for those trips. I know there are thousands of kids around our country who will never be able to go to a national convention. It’s our responsibility to level the playing field and provide experiences for everyone that allow everyone the same opportunities to learn.

My current position allows me to work with one of the most diverse school populations. With students from over 60 countries who speak over 40 different languages, these kids have built a media staff that reflects our diversity. We need more of that in our schools.

Finally, I didn’t go to college knowing I wanted to teach journalism….I just wanted to teach. I chose English. Five years later, my principal chose me to advise the newspaper. I knew nothing about journalism or how to teach it. I started reading and taking my students to everything I could find. I realized I couldn’t do it by myself, so I found people to help us. We grew and improved, and we’re still growing. And that’s what I want everyone to know: It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, how much money you have, or how smart you are, with hard work and determination, everyone can find a niche in the journalism classroom just like I did.

Back to the candidate slate list


Candidate for vice president

Justin Daigle, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

My colleagues, friends and family used to think I was crazy. They’d ask why I spend my evenings, weekends and summers working on all things journalism when not working on my other teaching preps or taking some time off. Through the years, they have started to understand. They have seen me find my home in a job that speaks to my passions, my heart and my belief that this is how I contribute to my little corner of the world. It might sound like a peculiar calling, but that’s just who I am.

I have been fortunate to give back to the journalism community by serving as vice president, president and past president of the Colorado Student Media Association, and I currently serve as the JEA Colorado state director. I would love to serve as JEA vice president because I have a calling to take on a bigger role in the journalism community — advocating for student journalists and programs, mentoring advisers and contributing to the overall discussion of scholastic journalism in any way I can. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I will do whatever I can to support others. When I lead a session or workshop, I am happy to share my slides and materials. I will raise my hand to volunteer to serve on a committee to revise our Colorado publication rubrics for All-Colorado contests or step in at the last minute to serve as an emcee for a Quiz Bowl contest.

I became a JEA lifetime member because JEA has been a driving force in shaping me as a journalism adviser. I’m excited to take on this opportunity to work and collaborate with JEA members and the board in the greater role to share ideas and grow the successes of students and advisers in the years to come.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

Ask any adviser and they will say, “This last year was rough.” The pandemic impacted so many aspects of what we do every day, including how we do publications. Though I believe we learned a lot of great things, the one story that can’t be ignored is how advisers — novice and veteran — are leaving the professions of teaching and/or advising.

As we see new advisers joining our journalism family, it is up to us to welcome and support them. This means we need more advisers being part of our JEA Mentoring Program. We currently do not have enough mentors to support the growing number of new advisers. As a JEA mentor, what my mentees have shared is they were grateful just to have someone who listened and helped them create an action plan to move forward. I know asking advisers to be part of one more thing (like being a mentor) can be daunting; however, we were once new advisers who needed resources and someone to just listen to. More importantly, I was grateful for the friendships I created with other advisers who became my besties. When I exit a virtual meeting with my mentee, I always leave the conversation feeling like that hour was so worth it because that adviser left smiling and was reminded that they can do this. I am reminded I can do this, too.

I am alarmed at the veteran advisers who have begun to exit their programs. Though I wish them well, I sit and wonder what we could have done to possibly remind them of why journalism advising was and is the place to be. I’d love to see state associations share ideas of how states are bringing advisers together through workshops, training events and happy hours.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

My voice is one of 2,554 [teacher-adviser] members in our organization and all voices matter. What my voice brings is 19 years of educational experience and a hunger for growth and reflection to share with our membership.

When I earned my Career and Technical Education license in 2019, my program became a CTE credit, which has also helped in gaining more student involvement. I have worked to transform the yearbook program into four levels so it falls within a graphic design pathway within our state program approval guidelines. My students even work with our local paper to publish their photos and articles. I am piloting Adobe InDesign certifications this year that will also serve as a graduation demonstration for students. With more programs desiring to be CTE certified, I can share my journey and perspective to support others while still learning to grow my own program. 

I am fortunate to have worked with students to build a supportive partnership with the administrative staff at my school who understand the state law and support my students’ journalism voice. I want to help other programs build those important relationships with their administrations so they can become a community of writers and thinkers, working to not only record history for their school, but to develop their own skills as communicators, as leaders and as members of a larger community.

Being a journalism adviser has made my teaching career special. I have been inspired by so many students and advisers at Brighton High School, in Colorado and across the nation. I want other adviser friends to feel that same love and inspiration in their roles. The work we do is so important, and isn’t getting any easier. We can and must find ways to support our fellow advisers to stay in this incredible profession.

Back to the candidate slate list


Candidates for Educational Initiatives Director

Shari Adwers, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I became involved with JEA’s Curriculum Initiative at its inception in 2013 to become more involved in and give back to the organization that has helped me throughout my advising career. I am passionate about journalism’s place in academics and the benefits of a strong, meaningful, appropriate journalism curriculum. There are simply lifelong skills students gain from our programs that they don’t get anywhere else.

To advance JEA’s mission, I will continue to help teachers thrive, promote scholastic journalism, provide for all student and adviser situations, build new academic and professional partnerships and maintain JEA’s history of excellence.

Our members set a high bar for themselves and their students. We must reflect those high standards through the educational initiatives and resources we provide. Our offerings must be able to compete with the other journalism educational opportunities of schools and corporations nationwide. My vision is to continue to expand and update offerings that are flexible, fresh and relevant while we support advisers and teachers through curricular coaching, mentorship and educational opportunities to grow their skills and expand journalism and media literacy in their schools.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

We are in a climate where journalism and journalism educators face growing criticism. This, in tandem with the challenges dealt by the pandemic, has accelerated teacher burnout and adviser turnover. So many of our colleagues have left teaching altogether.

We must continue to provide the resources, mentorship and professional support our members need to thrive in the classroom. This includes administrative outreach and expanded training opportunities. We must support scholastic journalism and promote the unique skills a journalism curriculum brings to the academic arena.

The future of our democracy depends on media literacy and a quality journalism education. We must advocate for student press rights, journalism’s place in a rigorous curriculum, media literacy in the classroom, quality teacher training and mentorship.

JEA has built strong and beneficial partnerships in the academic and professional journalism community. We must expand our network to support our educators, their students and the role of journalism in our democracy. It is important to bring new advisers into the JEA fold as active participants. New voices with fresh ideas will help us innovate and serve our membership and the students we teach.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I believe my voice is that of institutional knowledge of JEA’s curriculum: where it began, how it evolved and where it’s headed. Our educational initiative must be forward-thinking to bring resources to teachers and advisers in ways that support the future of education, in a variety of modes and methods, both in and out of the classroom. Every program is unique —from clubs to multi-year programs, yearbook to broadcast, small schools to large and staffs in single-digits to those of over 100.

JEA has supported me through literary magazine, yearbook, bi-weekly newspaper, website, monthly newsmagazine and broadcast. Its community has mentored me and been a source of encouragement as I advised large and small staffs and taught my students to serve diverse readerships at both urban and rural schools in Michigan and Virginia.

I’ve lived through administrative and curricular battles along the way, and I benefited from JEA’s mentorship, curricular coaching and educational partnerships. This is why I know they will play a critical role in supporting our members through the challenges scholastic journalism is currently facing.


Annette Deming, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

JEA’s mission includes supporting advisers and “providing resources and educational opportunities” for which I think the educational initiatives director plays an important role.

When I first started my journalism advising career 11 years ago, it was JEA’s community, resources and communication of those resources that helped me with the confidence and the desire to not only advise scholastic journalism but to do more, to take on more, to be more and to want to always be better than I was before. I want the opportunity to be apart of a team in the JEA community that has direct access to helping advisers who need it, like I did 11 years ago, and advisers who want the resources they’ve used in the past refreshed and updated to match our growing field. 

I will help JEA by overseeing the collection of resources and the curriculum initiatives of JEA by using my experience as an instructional coach and as a JEA member and award recipient to guide me in this new role. I will use my passion for innovative and engaging teaching to work with teachers all over the country, build relationships with stakeholders that directly impact scholastic journalism programs, acknowledge when education is changing and be in-the-know as to how new or reformed educational policy affects our teaching, have an understanding and empathy for what scholastic journalism “looks like” state-to-state, and promote the resources and opportunities JEA has for its members by being actively involved, seeking out ways to help members locate the resources they need, and to truly listen to those advisers when they need help or have suggestions that stem from their own classroom and educational experiences.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

In my opinion, the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism today is its lack of popularity among districts and administrators who don’t understand how scholastic journalism students benefit from well-funded and credit-driven journalism courses at the secondary level. Those decision-makers are the same people who believe they’re doing enough by simply promoting journalism as an after-school or club only program. They continue to remove journalism programs from curriculums and claim there just isn’t enough money or space in a students “rigorous” academic schedule to consider journalism any further. Those decision-makers are remarkably ignorant of: the direct route to college and the thriving academic journalism skills it provides; the cross-curricular skills gained by students; the opportunities to create, experience, and produce something outside the walls of their own classrooms and schools; and the awards received by individuals and programs that are helping to build school cultures, positive accreditation reports for schools and assist competitive districts that live off of increasing student enrollments.

I think in this age of digital media and access, journalism is being revamped and thriving. There is a future for students in journalism. I think high school reporters fill a gaping hole in news media as evidenced by stories like, “Adriana Chavira’s fight against her suspension at LAUSD,” where her students held strong to their student press rights; or the student reporters from Pittsburg High School in Kansas, who investigated their new principal only to find several discrepancies in her credentials.

I think the challenge to encourage funding and academic transferable credit student media programs are important to promote and protect.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

My voice is a tool that has transported mine and my students’ goals into the future. A future that has more possibilities and more solutions. A future built on a legacy of challenges and a variety of “let’s just go for it” phrases. My voice has been accompanied by shared experiences and knowledge I have had the pleasure of sharing at national conventions when I openly talk about homogeneous assessment practices versus points-based systems or leadership development in the classroom.

My voice is a tool that can be used for standing up for what is right, rather than what is easy, and to encourage anyone seeking that same need to be courageous and stand up too. I have used my voice to fight for more funding with my principal. I have used my voice to fight for stronger social media awareness and as a call to action to my district school board and congressman. I have used my voice to encourage participation in student media. I have used my voice to volunteer to help with student press freedom rights and promote legislation.

My voice gives my opinions and experiences a platform that provides my community, colleagues and students with the opportunity to have perspective and knowledge on things that matter, and by extension, my students’ voices now understand how to use that platform to elevate their own voices. I want to continue to use my voice to help my JEA community succeed or get what they need. 

My voice conveys passion and excitement: In a way, voices are a superpower if you know how to use it. Voices can be used to create change, and I have used my voice over and over again to change my own teaching practices, to ask for help from others so that change can happen and to revamp the ways I’ve done things in the past.

My voice cultivates relationships. It allows me to exchange stories, ideas, and experiences with others through a transparent and mutual exchange. We learn from each other through those relationships and our discourse helps us see a world we may not have been aware existed until we shared our voices.

No two voices are the same, each voice has something different to say. Each voice is driven by a variety of experiences. And in a world that questions the efficacy of the teaching profession, and where student press freedom rights aren’t equal state-to-state,  we need our voices to represent freedom and democracy.

Back to the candidate slate list


Candidates for Director-at-large

Louisa Avery, MJE

HS Journalism Teacher

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I want to help support teachers and advisers because this will create stronger journalists, which the world desperately needs. Journalism is such an important field, and although advising student media is incredibly rewarding, it is also very difficult. Empowering teachers and advisers through resources and other opportunities can help them stay in the profession longer, which will benefit students and improve society as a whole.

Ever since moving abroad to teach, I realized how valuable a strong professional learning community is. I took this for granted in Florida because I had many adviser friends in the vicinity and was very active in the state organization. I’m lucky now to have two colleagues in the building who understand what I do; however, there are no other scholastic journalism programs nearby we can turn to for collaboration. This led me to utilize JEA more, not only as a resource, but also for a sense of community. I now know there are more people like me who may be in areas where they truly feel like they’re alone on an island with no one to help them.

As JEA’s mission states, it provides “resources and education opportunities,” many of which I’ve taken advantage of, such as the robust curriculum and certification program. Earning my MJE was one of the most affirming professional development experiences of my career. Now that I’ve been teaching for 18 years, I feel it’s time for me to give back to the organization that has given me so much. I’ve done that by presenting at national conventions and Adviser Institutes, serving on the Scholastic Journalism Week planning committee, writing for JEA’s DEI resources and C:JET magazine, and becoming JEA’s first international mentor. I would be honored to serve the organization in an even greater capacity as a board member.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

Part of JEA’s mission is to support “free and responsible journalism.” Unfortunately, censorship is still an all-too-common occurrence in scholastic journalism. There are new examples each year of journalism programs closing, teachers being removed from their positions, and administrations refusing to allow publications to be distributed. It is difficult for many teachers to know how to handle these situations, especially if they are new to their jobs or in a state that doesn’t offer any legal protection. However, even that isn’t enough to avoid issues, as we saw this past year with my fellow JEA Scholastic Journalism Week committee member Adriana Chavira, a California adviser who was threatened with suspension.

Additionally, private and independent schools don’t benefit from the laws and precedents that protect public schools, even in the 16 states that have New Voices laws. Both JEA’s Scholastic Rights Committee website and the Student Press Law Center provide an abundance of information and assistance, but not all staffs are aware it exists, while other staffs choose not to fight the battle at all. Overall, journalism operating under censorship is not true journalism, and our students deserve that authentic educational experience.

In addition to censorship from outside sources, many factors have caused more students to begin engaging in self-censorship. They’re afraid to share their own opinions in case others don’t like what they have to say. They shy away from being too controversial or rocking the boat. This could be a result of cancel culture or because of the lack of respect journalists face in some communities. Either way, students need to know that their views are important and feel comfortable and confident in sharing them. With the support of JEA, advisers can help the students realize the power of their voices and empower them to use them responsibly to create change.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

Although diversity, equity and inclusion work has been on the forefront of JEA’s agenda for a few years now, that is not reflected in the makeup of the board. As a woman of color, I did not see myself represented on the board until Veronica Purvis joined as executive director. I’d like to help get more people of color involved in JEA because our students need to see people who look like them reflected in the organization as well. This is especially important at a time when stories about the issues surrounding diversity in professional newsrooms are making headlines.

Aside from that, I’ve been involved in scholastic journalism for as long as I can remember — years before I had a name for it. I created my own newsletter for my fifth grade classes and was the cue card girl for the daily morning show. This continued through middle school, high school and college, before I started teaching at my alma mater.

The first publication I advised was in a CTE program, but I also advised in two traditional public high schools. I earned Adobe certifications for myself and helped my students earn them as well. Now I’m in a private, independent, international school.

I’ve had staffs as small as 10 and as large as 60. I now work in small school with 500 in the high school, but previously taught in large schools with 2,500 in the high school. I’ve worked in schools where resources were extremely limited and others where they were easily attained.

I’ve advised newspaper and yearbook, in addition to teaching graphic design, photojournalism and middle school media literacy.

All in all, I have had many different teaching experiences, so I can relate to advisers in a variety of situations, which allows me to support them better.


Shari Chumley, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I started teaching as a second career later in life. In the second month of my first school year when I was so far in survival mode that breathing was a struggle, my principal stated that if someone didn’t step up, we wouldn’t have a yearbook. My colleague said that she had done yearbook in school and it was fun and got me to agree to help her. The next month, she quit teaching and I was left to complete the book myself.

Four students and I created what I now consider to be the worst yearbook ever (no really, one page was navy with large white dots and said “The track team was not formed at the time of printing, feel free to add your own pictures.” Another page looked like the stripes on the TV at quitting time. It was bad.)

The day after we submitted that book for printing, I was invited to our state press association convention. From the first session, I was hooked.

I love yearbook journalism and have branched into multimedia journalism as well. I learned so much through trial and error, but even more from the state SPA and then JEA.

JEA’s mission to provide resources and educational opportunities for new and struggling teachers is near and dear to my heart. I would not be the teacher I am without the help and support of the JEA organization. I would like to give back and serve this organization in its ongoing efforts to provide support for budding journalists and their teacher-advisers.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

I think the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today is a lack of appreciation or understanding of what journalism can do for students and schools, especially by school administration and communities. I do not live in a state with legal protections for my journalists or even myself. My former principal once told me that the first paper he did not review would be the last one we published.

I worked to educate him and future principals about the importance of free and responsible scholastic journalism. I have worked to educate my students as well as our school community about what that looks like.

I am on the board of directors of our state SPA and hope to grow our journalism community in the state. Only 10% of the schools in our state have a journalism program that is a member of the MSPA. I know that many of the nonmember schools have journalism programs, but are working autonomously and on an island.  In my dealings with teachers from those schools (as well as member schools), I have found that many do not get recognition or support for their programs.

I would like to work at the national level, as well as the state level, to raise awareness of the importance of scholastic journalism for our schools, communities, states and country. 

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I teach and advise in Mississippi, a state that contains many of the most underserved and understaffed students in the country. It would be good for JEA to have a representative who can speak to and for teacher-advisers and students who do not have legal protections or as many opportunities in scholastic journalism. Only 10% of the schools in our state have programs that are members of our state scholastic press association.

I do not have a background in journalism and have learned most of what I know from my state scholastic press association and JEA.

I’m passionate about teaching new advisers and know that our state and national resources are the most effective way to reach and teach advisers who can then pass that knowledge along to their students. I would love to be an advocate for those students and teacher-advisers.


Josh Clements, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

When I started attending yearbook camps and journalism workshops I came to a realization; the spirit of scholastic journalism is contagious. The individuals involved at a local, state or national level are some of the most humble, passionate and caring individuals I have had the chance to learn from and work alongside.

I want to serve as a director-at-large so I can give back to the scholastic journalism community and provide the newer advisers with a similar experience that I had when I was learning how to navigate my yearbook and newspaper classes. The passion that we have for journalism needs to be shared with as many new and/or veteran advisers and members as possible. If we don’t share our best practices, passion and inspiration with each other and with those who may be “on the fence” about journalism we are risking continual adviser turnover, student bitterness and resentment within the school communities. 

As we know, the “journalism world” is very small compared to the education community as a whole, but we all seem to know each other. It is up to us to present information in an informative, innovative and engaging way so that all who attend the presentations are inspired to do great things for their schools. 

If elected, I hope to facilitate ways to do this for all journalism educators. At times I’ve felt that I am on an “island of one” at my school. I am the only yearbook adviser. I am the only newspaper adviser. However, knowing that I have a community of support with JEA I have felt confident and supported; I hope to do this for other scholastic educators as a board member.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

One of the biggest challenges facing scholastic journalism is fear. The fear of printing a story that deals with heated topical issues in the media. The fear of potential community upheaval regarding the content. Fear should not drive the stories printed in the yearbook, the students should. Period. If a student is passionate about a topic and wants to cover an issue, movement, or group of individuals on campus they have the right to. This fear, at times, has an impact on the yearbook and/or journalism programs because the administration feels they need to step in and check the content of the yearbook prior to publishing because they know that the media backlash could be intense.

Knowing student press law is essential to navigating these issues. Fortunately, at our school, we have developed a great relationship with our community and administration. When we printed stories on Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate and the presidential election in the 2021 yearbook we didn’t hear any negative critiques about any of those stories. However, I know this is not the reality for many advisers.

Through balanced journalism which tells the stories of the year consistently from year to year, journalism programs can establish trust with their readers and community members. As journalism staffs write stories, I would encourage them to write to engage the subjects and readers with empathy and curiosity. These are two strategies that could help tell these seemingly controversial issues in a way that promotes inclusivity and growth rather than divisiveness and animosity.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I believe that my voice and contributions to the perspective of the JEA would be valuable because of my experience, creative approach to education and the values that have driven my career thus far. Since my first year as yearbook adviser in 2006, I feel I have grown as an educator but most importantly as a journalism teacher. Since then, I have grown two yearbook programs at two different schools in addition to establishing a journalism-newspaper class at my current school.

I have also had the opportunity to teach and/or present at various yearbook and journalism workshops and conferences through Jostens or JEA. Throughout my career as a journalism educator, there have been moments that I’ve needed to develop curriculum in order to achieve a curricular or pedagogical goal.

Lastly, I feel that I would be able to engage the projects and initiatives as a board member with the values I’ve been taught by my mentors within the scholastic journalism community. I believe that humility and community are the two of the most important values that I’ve learned as a journalism educator.


Michelle Corbett, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

When I became a yearbook adviser 10 years ago, I had no journalism background and no idea where to even begin. Like so many people do, I began to Google and I found JEA. I started doing some research and I was given a lot of support from my yearbook rep as well. She encouraged me to join JEA and gave me even more information about the organization.

I would not be the adviser I am today without JEA and everything the people that are part of it provide. The resources were and still are invaluable. The members and staff are the most amazing support system.

I now want to give back. I want to be part of the support system for other advisers across the country that need the same support that I did.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

The uptick in censorship is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism today. We are seeing cases increase even in states with protections both for students and advisers.

I believe we need to continue pushing for New Voices legislation in all 50 states and/or a federal law protecting students and advisers. I believe we can all agree the voices of our students need to be protected, and their advisers need to be protected as well.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I’m from a state that does not have much national representation. Wisconsin has some great scholastic journalism programs, and we have a lot to offer. There is great work being done in our state, and I’d like for people to see more of that. We don’t have New Voices in our state and it has been an almost impossible battle here, but I know our state JEA director and board is working hard for us despite the challenges. I know the challenges advisers face that don’t have protections, and I know what it’s like to take on a publication with no journalism background. It can be an overwhelming time, and I have the experience to help advisers through that period.


Sandra Coyer, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I want to serve as a JEA board member because of how crucial this organization has been to my own development as a strong adviser. Membership has provided me with mentors, friends and a professional family who are available to answer questions, brainstorm curriculum, as well as share in the victories and defeats that only media advisers understand.

Giving back and maintaining the strength of the organization is important to me because I want the organization to be available to advisers many years into the future. Helping advisers and teachers improve their craft through mentorship and access to a rich curriculum is fundamental to strengthening media programs across the country and the world.

I have experience helping advisers in Washington state through the WJEA Summer Camp push their own abilities to become better versions of themselves for their students.

It is also important to advocate for the importance of media storytelling and a free scholastic press. I want to continue to use my passionate voice to be a strong advocate for media programs around the country, much like I do for those in my state.

What I love most about being a media teacher is that the media landscape is constantly changing, and advisers need tools to navigate and help push the boundaries of the storytelling that is possible for their students. It is through the building of a welcoming and inclusive adviser community that we become stronger, more confident and better advisers, as well as teachers.

Finally, I believe in holding up high expectations of myself and my students to build a strong program that believes in excellence. I would expect the same of JEA.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

The greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today is the continued push by administrators and adults to control the stories and voices of student journalists and media storytellers. Even in states still reveling in the New Voices victories, administrators are looking for other ways to control information.

Student journalists should not be afraid to go after important topics their school community needs to know, wants to know and should know. But some school officials, with increasing pressure to pass school levies and bonds, are attempting to find ways to control the narrative the community sees and hears. This could be by limiting student’s abilities to investigate information or even limiting the availability and access to sources for stories students are working on.

Continuing to educate, inform and proactively collaborate with administrators and district officials is crucial. Giving advisers ways to discuss potentially controversial stories with their staff and build relationships with authority figures is also important.  As more and more states, hopefully, continue to push for student press freedoms, being proactive in working with school districts and their legal teams will help mitigate future problems.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

My voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard because I represent all facets of being a media adviser. I have been a newspaper adviser for the past 24 years. My publication has been recognized in Best of Show competitions by the National Scholastic Press Association, as well as honored with Pacemaker awards, as well as finalists. My students consistently place in [National Student Media Contests] and media contests at national conventions, as well as at the state level.

My newspaper is 111 years old and upholding its reputation for excellence and credibility is important to me. While the other newspapers in my district have slowly disappeared, The Viking Vanguard has continued to thrive, even through the pandemic. I added the online website more than 10 years ago. The broadcast program ended up under my stewardship eight years ago and my students produce a weekly announcement show as well as a monthly newsmagazine show modeled after a Seattle professional program.

This past year, I became the adviser to the 97-year-old yearbook program and I finally feel my life is complete. I’ve balanced teaching English with being a media adviser and now I am a full-time media and CTE teacher.

I have professional experience in the industry and hold a communications degree from the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University. I understand what all advisers go through —the struggles as well as the victories. I understand ways to support their pedagogy as well as teach their students to lead.


Brett Deever

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I want to serve because of the great help and encouragement JEA has provided to me as an educator and I want to give back to those who have helped me. I want to help JEA advance the mission by increasing the resources available and educational opportunities to help our educators.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

The greatest struggles facing scholastic journalism is it not being taken seriously. Administrators, fellow teachers, students and parents are not always keen to take journalism seriously, but it’s importance in growing our future leaders is so vital. Journalism is treated as an elective, an “easy-A” class, and proper resources and time are not given to journalism educators because it is treated as such.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I believe my voice is an important voice and perspective to be heard because of my youth and because I have a background with journalism. I am a young educator, and so I have the ability to understand the young people more, as well as that passion and energy. I also studied journalism in college, have a case study published in a college media ethics textbook and have that background and experience before deciding to go into teaching, so I have a good understanding for the field.


Charles Erikson, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

My path to journalism and to JEA membership was a roundabout one.

When the previous yearbook adviser (who was not a JEA member) stepped down, I was encouraged to apply for the position because I was an English teacher and had photography experience.

By chance, I met the other advisers in my district at a summer camp. After that, we started sharing notes and lessons, meeting to problem solve, and even sharing a bus to take students to nearby trainings. On one of those shared trips, an adviser recommended some yearbook podcasts, which opened my eyes to the world of journalism. Within a few months, I joined JEA at the end of my fourth year of advising. In the couple of years since then, I have published two articles in C:JET (my first articles ever!), spoken at a national convention, helped judge state and national media contests, and passed the CJE exam.

My view of student rights, of yearbook and of journalism has broadened tremendously because of JEA. The people I have met, trainings that I have attended have been priceless to my growth as a teacher-adviser.

I want to give back to JEA and help others who may be like me. Newer to the world of journalism, potentially overwhelmed by information or expertise and unsure of where to go. People who are attending a convention for the first time. People who are committed, who want to support student rights and journalism on their campus, but who are missing the support and network that is so valuable.

I am excited that the director-at-large position organizes the first-time attendee orientation at conventions and that the position works with regional and state press association directors, among many others. I look forward to welcoming others to JEA.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

I think the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today is accessibility.

Editors play a big part in making the publications room accessible to all students. Community comes from fun activities, icebreakers, scavenger hunts or summer camps. But, it also has to come from building everyone up and supporting each other.

A publication staff should be as diverse as the community it represents, and that includes students with disabilities. As teacher-advisers, we have to welcome all students into the publication room, finding a role and a place for everyone. In a world that revolves around production cycles, deadlines, coverage numbers or applications, when we are in the weeds even the best of us can lose track of the people in front of us.     

Part of this challenge is teaching editor leaders. Advisers should know which students have accommodations or modifications, and they should have access to legal documents with this information. Student-editors do not benefit from that access and information. They have to be taught to scaffold, simplify or rephrase directions, plan for extra time on assignments and deadlines, manage emotional outbursts and mentor students in a variety of ways. They have to be able to use a variety of tools to find what can help each student on staff.

It is important — for every part of our student body — that journalism courses be accessible to everyone. Students all have a voice, all have a story to tell, all have something to contribute. Our challenge is to train our students to find, support and develop that while doing it with only partial information

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

We often talk about giving a voice to the voiceless and embracing the community. We often talk about telling their stories. We talk about being the fourth estate. We talk about facts, and all of these things are extremely important.

Sometimes, though, I think we forget that we are dealing with young people, as we focus on events or games. Young people who need to be seen, who need to be told that they still matter even if they aren’t learning in AP classes, playing a sport or joining a club.

I think publication staffs share the gift of Orpheus (as from the Broadway musical, Hadestown): “He can make you see how the world can be, / in spite of the way that it is.”

The publication staff we train every year can shape school cultures, can hold district personnel accountable and can report on games and events. Through their storytelling, they can also build bridges, dilute biases and build empathy for other ways of life, other experiences and other people. They can share solutions as well as problems, combating cynicism through reporting.

Empathy matters. It ratifies our humanity, as Frank Sesno wrote in his book, “Ask More.”

It is important to remember the people we cover and the community we represent, both what they are and what they could be.


Melissa Falkowski, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I have been advising student publications for 17 years, and in that time I have served as a district level contest coordinator and a district director for our state press association. I have mentored new advisers in my school district and presented sessions at the local, state, and national level. I enjoy being a proactive problem solver and sharing my expertise and resources with others. I want to serve other advisers and student journalists on a scale that has a national impact. The Journalism Education Association has played a huge role in my ability to provide students with a quality journalism education. Conventions have always helped me grow as an educator and an adviser. Serving on the board would allow me the opportunity to give back to an organization that I feel encompasses the very best of scholastic journalism.

As a member of the board, I would work to advance JEA’s core values: pedagogy, advocacy, innovation, community and excellence. I’m adept at crafting high quality journalism lessons and materials. I am incredibly passionate about free, uncensored student press and would continue to do my part advocating for New Voices legislation and protections for students journalists and advisers in both my home state and across the county. I’m also very passionate about finding ways to preserve traditional journalism while still adapting to new storytelling mediums and platforms as the field evolves. I support and would love to help strengthen the incredible scholastic journalism community that exists already thanks to JEA and the journalism excellence that the organization promotes.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

One of the greatest challenges facing scholastic journalism today is the difficulty in attracting and retaining strong teachers who can become quality journalism teachers and publications advisers. There is an incredible amount of turnover in advising and the teaching field in general.

Many advisers became advisers because there was no one else at their school to teach the class, or their principal told them they were now in charge of a student publication. Often they have no support and have to learn their way around scholastic journalism and advising alone.

You can’t have a student publication without the students, but very importantly it also can’t exist without an adviser. Without high quality teachers, who will teach students all the vital skills we know are learned through journalism?

There must be a better effort to recruit, train and retain passionate, talented teachers who can help shape, innovate and support the future generation of student journalists.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I think I would bring a strong, passionate voice to JEA. I have been involved in scholastic journalism since I was 12 years old writing copy and taking pictures for my middle school yearbook class. My experiences as a student journalist has shaped much of my life and was the reason I became an educator. I believe all of my experiences as a former student journalist turned publications adviser offer an important voice and perspective from both sides of journalism education.

Additionally, I bring a unique perspective about trauma informed teaching and advising. Our school was the site of one of the worst school shootings in American history, and navigating the ongoing trauma from the event, while advising students to produce quality journalism created my empathetic, trauma-sensitive perspective that could enhance the resources available to any staff dealing with any type of tragic or traumatic situation.


Brenda Field, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I want to continue to serve as a Director-at-large because there is more work to do. I’ve learned a great deal about JEA and about what advisers need in my first term. We worked together to navigate the association through the pandemic, and while decisions weren’t always easy, I found the experience of giving back to the scholastic journalism community in this way was always worth it. I feel indebted to JEA and to its members, past and present, and I know there is more I can contribute.

We’ve just begun to see how the past three years have changed what it means to be an adviser. There is increased scrutiny of scholastic media, both inside and outside the school building. Student needs are more profound. Therefore, our mission is more critical than ever. We need to help advisers at every stage of their careers, wherever they are, feel supported. No one should ever feel alone in this job and there are too many advisers who do. Many advisers don’t know about JEA. Some do, but they can’t imagine ever making it to a convention. Some aren’t sure JEA will be able to support their needs. Still others have been involved with JEA for years but don’t recognize what they have to contribute. I want to continue to serve in this position because I know the needs for resources, educational opportunities, and community are greater than ever.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

There are many challenges facing scholastic journalism education today, but the lack of support is the greatest one. It comes in many forms.

It shows up when administrators try to control student content, make it more difficult for advisers to do their jobs, or take students to workshops and conventions. It’s evident in decisions made about curricular priorities and sectioning. It shows up in questions posed by politicians about what should or shouldn’t be discussed in school.

It’s there in the classroom when advisers don’t know how to connect with resources and curriculum to assist in training their students.

It appears in conversations about the journalism profession: Why should scholastic journalism continue to be supported when so many professional organizations are dying? When journalism is reported to be the “most regretted college major?”

Despite that, as journalism educators, we know the power of scholastic journalism. We know how it trains students to think critically, to be empathetic, and to bring about positive change. We know involvement in scholastic journalism improves student academic outcomes across the curriculum. As an organization, and especially as a board, we need to work to connect more advisers with JEA, so they’re aware of the resources and support of our professional learning community, and we need to help educate administrators about the value of scholastic journalism. Additionally, we need to continue to be active in supporting legislation that protects students and advisers.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

My voice is important because of my experience as a current member of the board. Additionally, my perspective as a veteran adviser is helpful in strategizing how to address the challenges scholastic journalism faces.

As a current board member, I know our goals and initiatives well. I have been in the director-at-large role since the pandemic’s beginning, so I understand how the organization has been affected. I also understand the reasoning behind decisions made since.

I have been a JEA member since I began teaching in 1996. Over the years, I have served as a board member of multiple regional press associations, a JEA state director, and a convention local chair. Additionally, I co-chaired the New Voices effort that increased student journalists’ protections in Illinois. These experiences have proven to be incredibly useful in thinking about how to address board matters.

Moreover, while I believe my perspective and voice are needed, I am naturally a listener and observer. It matters to me to consider all perspectives before weighing in. Leaders need to listen before they speak.


Sam Hanley, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I want to serve because I believe in the capacity for young people to tell great stories that affect change in their communities, and that every student deserves the opportunity for a great scholastic media experience.  JEA is uniquely positioned to help teachers deliver media instruction and to create programs in which student journalists responsibly exercise their First Amendment right. I hope to work with the board to leverage the association’s potential as we continue working toward high-quality programming for all students.

I have a strong background in working with nonprofit organizations, including the Indiana High School Press Association. As a board member and officer for IHSPA, I’ve organized two state conventions and led efforts to ensure the association’s long-term financial solvency. In addition to serving on the Indiana High School Press Association board of directors, I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, where I currently lead a small team to help recruit mentors for youth in the Indianapolis area.

I hold undergraduate degrees in English and journalism and a masters degree in school leadership. I’m a faculty member of IU’s High School Journalism Institute, and I’ve presented at state and national conferences. This is my 21st year teaching English and advising Southport High School’s yearbook, The Anchor. I look forward to bringing these experiences to the table as I serve JEA’s members and their students.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

Equity of access has been and remains a huge challenge facing scholastic journalism programs. Quality journalism programs should be available to all students and not the exception for students in marginalized communities.

By working with state affiliates, we can and should continue our work toward creating feeder programs (eg. journalism as English credit,) and providing resources to help states lobby for including media literacy and journalism classes in core curriculum. We should also redouble our efforts in recruiting new members, focusing on schools in urban and rural areas.

JEA can support this effort by continuing and expanding our mentoring program. While we know that every school may not have a licensed journalism educator, we can help to ensure that every teacher has the resources they need to support their students. In addition, we can better advocate to get mentors into areas where the need is greatest.

While we know that students are drawn to high-quality journalism programs for altruistic reasons, we must also recognize that attendance at state and national conferences, participating in summer workshops and celebrating hard-earned recognitions are also huge draws in growing programs. JEA has done a terrific job advocating for students to attend conferences and creating opportunities for all programs to receive robust critiques and earn awards. We must continue, however, to identify regions, schools, and programs that could benefit from our advocacy; every student deserves the right to these perks, not just those with the financial resources to afford them.

JEA leadership should be commended for advancing efforts in diversity and inclusion. After attending the most recent national convention in St. Louis, it’s evident that those efforts are paying dividends. I look forward to working with JEA members to continue these efforts.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I’ve spent my entire 20 year advising career in one place, in service to one school community. During that time, I’ve watched Southport High School change from a suburban school with a primarily white student population to one of the most diverse schools in the state of Indiana. Now, our school community is majority minority, with our EL population representing 60-plus world languages. In addition, we have recently surpassed the 75% free-and-reduced-lunch mark. In short, we’ve changed — as have many schools across our country.

Our program had to change to reflect our student population and meet their diverse needs. Along with a supportive administration, our principal was recently named JEA’s Administrator of the Year, and an amazing journalism teaching partner, we’ve worked hard to make sure that our introductory and publications classes are accessible to all students while maintaining high-quality student publications. We partnered with our state organization to successfully lobby our school board to include journalism in the core curriculum, one of the first schools in the state to adopt this model.

Embracing those changing demographics, we’ve maintained high-quality student publications. Our yearbook, The Anchor, and our newsmagazine, The Journal, have consistently ranked among the best in the state. Our students earn state and national awards. Recently our principal, Brian Knight, was named JEA’s Administrator of the Year. While I’m proud of these accomplishments, I’m most proud that our newsroom has adapted to meet the needs of our students.


Jessica Hunziker, MJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

Simply, I want to serve JEA because of how much JEA has served me since I began my advising career.

When I started advising video broadcast unexpectedly at my school many years ago, it was attending sessions at JEA and using the resources available online through JEA Digital Media that gave me confidence to build a video program at my school. When I think about my students, I can remember — in great detail — what it’s like to see them earn a “superior” rating in the National Student Media Contests. And when I think about honoring the gifted professionals in our organization, I think about how special my own recognition was as a 2014 Rising Star or a 2020 Special Recognition Yearbook Adviser.

JEA’s mission is about encouraging and rewarding excellence with students and educators, and I have experienced first-hand how powerful this is to the people recognized and the programs they represent. The resources and opportunities available through JEA are career-saving and essential; I’ve used them so many times. JEA has been good to me, but that’s not enough. There are still advisers who are left unsupported in their work, either because they don’t know about JEA or they’ve never experienced how powerful the organization can be in their teaching. There are programs that are struggling because of poor enrollment, decreased funding or lack of protections for students. And there are students in our schools that are left unrepresented or underrepresented, and have never experienced the impact of the community and empathy that can come from great student media. As a director-at-large for JEA, I will work tirelessly to help JEA continue the great work that has come before for the betterment of all students and advisers.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

At this time, I believe the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today is teacher retention and burn-out which is directly related to decreased engagement and protections for student media programs and student journalists. Here’s the thing. Education is a human profession. We must prioritize the humans in this business, and the humans that have the greatest impact on scholastic journalism are advisers. We must do everything we can to support and protect advisers. I believe the adviser is the single most influential factor in whether or not a program will be successful and whether or not students in that program will be great.

When our teachers are burned out or leaving the profession, we should be gravely concerned and that concern should result in action. In schools without skilled, qualified or engaged journalism teachers, students will struggle and so will free speech. When it’s possible that our students lack these rights in public schools, we should be gravely concerned and that concern should result in action. While these challenges are immense, I have hope in the profession and hope in JEA’s ability to influence change for advisers and their students.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

More than anything, I believe my experiences as an adviser have prepared me to serve the Journalism Education Association. I have been teaching and advising student media for 14 years and my advising experience includes yearbook, newsmagazine, video broadcast and online. In addition to teaching, I have served on the board for the Colorado Student Media Association since 2010 in various roles including secretary, education coordinator and president. Because of my range and depth of experience on a local journalism board, I believe I am prepared to contribute on a national level. 

Additionally, I earned my M.A. in journalism with an emphasis in education from Kent State University in 2021. During my coursework, I completed several classes that deepened by understanding of curriculum development and the importance of robust media programs in schools. My experience, however, was not isolated to the classroom; I was asked to actually do the work of creating content as a journalist. I believe this combination of the practical application of journalism in addition to rigorous coursework in curriculum development makes me a well-rounded candidate and a voice that will continue to advance the goals of JEA.

Finally, I believe in journalism and I believe in education. Teaching journalism is my life’s work. It’s my passion and my joy. And seeing young people challenge themselves and contribute meaningfully to our school community is what gives my work as an educator meaning. I attended my first JEA/NSPA national convention as a student teacher and since then, my personal and professional life has been richer because of JEA. It is my hope to use my experience, my depth of knowledge and my passion to help others in our professional know the joy — and professional growth — I’ve experienced from being part of this organization.  


Theodore “Ted” Kiefat

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I would like to serve as part of the JEA board, for a few reasons.

First, because of my love of live broadcast from live school events to our student driven newscasts and commercial creation.

Second, just like the JEA mission, I would like to be able to provide a professional atmosphere that allows students from all walks of life the chance to become a professional in the world of journalism so that their voices can and will be heard.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

For me I believe that the biggest challenge is two fold, first there is the lack of funding and with that lack of funding I feel that there are more and more school districts not deeming journalism programs important like they do for athletics programs.

Secondly, with so many school districts so worried about how they are viewed by the public, it takes away the ability for students to write and broadcast the true issues without having to get district approval to do so. And while school districts continue to worry about their image, students do not have the opportunities to take risks and learn from their mistakes so that they can continue to get better at the craft they work so hard to perfect.  

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I believe that my voice is important because I will continue to be an advocate for student exploration of careers in broadcast journalism while striving to provide a model for ways to give students experience within the K-12 school environment.


Debra Klevens, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I began teaching 23 years ago as a singleton in my building. I wanted to become the best journalism teacher, but I was flying solo. I spent late nights on campus trying to wrap my head around the journalism process. I studied programs that I wanted to be like when I “grew up.” Then my yearbook angel arrived; an experienced teacher from the rival high school took me under her wing and taught me the lay of the land.

Over the years, I was a sponge, seeking out every resource imaginable to continue my journalism journey. I have remained energized by never stopping learning. Over the past few years, I have spoken around the country at various yearbook workshops. At first, I questioned why they were inviting me. What did I have to offer? I was nervous and let fear stand in my way of helping others. However, the more I had the opportunity to speak, the more passionate I became about my career. To me, there is no more extraordinary gift than helping others. It fuels my soul. I realized that my teaching could expand beyond my classroom, which lit a new fire in me. I thoroughly enjoy providing my peers with advice, guidance and continued encouragement.

As a director-at-large, I would like to help advisers at all levels feel welcome in the community and offer support so that this job is less intimidating. At a time when our country is so divided, I would like to see our students be the change in the world. Together, we can provide them with the tools to see one another and accept differences. Our greatest opportunity right now is to ensure that we are getting our students to cover the entire community, not just students who look like them.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

It’s funny how the world changes you and your community. I would have answered this question three years ago with media literacy or students’ press rights. However, in our new reality, the most significant issue is one we can’t ignore, and it affects all advisers, teachers and humans: the mental health of our community.

I had two students who attempted suicide last year, and 16% of our faculty did not return. Unfortunately, I know my story isn’t uncommon. As I taught at publications workshops this summer, I heard the same sentiment from national advisers. I knew change was coming, and I chose to embrace it.

I spent a lot of time thinking about why I was so happy in previous years. I realized I cultivated our success and happiness when I spent time developing relationships. With COVID-19 and social distancing, getting up and coaching kids at their seats was a thing of the past. We were relegated to our desks, six feet apart. But I soon realized students remained engaged when I empowered them to create a world-class product.

While their eagerness and grandiose plans for 2022 fell flat, with no actions to propel the program, I couldn’t give up on kids. They needed me. They were not okay. The ramifications of 2020-2022 have been tremendous. The pandemic has put life into perspective and presented a new set of challenges. Because I see, hear and listen to students, I know there is a bigger problem than a yearbook and newspaper problem. There is a human problem that needs addressing. Mental health is the greatest challenge facing all humans today.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

In an increasingly interconnected world where difference is articulated along racial, ethnic or religious lines, I hope to use my voice to create an even more inclusive journalism community.

As a Jewish woman, I can share a different perspective. While I may look like many of you on the exterior, I am a minority and frequently face prejudices. I want to use my voice to help represent people that do not feel seen or heard. If we feel passionate about inclusivity, we must focus on maintaining open dialogue amongst diverse social groups. I have made this my mission at my school of 1,550 students and faculty.

It started with my staff. This year I had my students complete a one-question survey: What scares you most about having a conversation with someone different than you? I invited the district’s diversity, inclusion and equity director to speak with my students. It was one of the most powerful discussions we have ever had. My students concluded that we must continue having courageous conversations. They acknowledged that the talks might be complicated; however, if they are done respectfully, we can allow every student in our community to feel welcome here.

I believe the Journalism Education Association is no different. We are all welcome here. This is a challenging time in our history. However, we can continue building and sharing our unique challenges and experiences to enrich the lives of one another. Journalism is our vehicle. It all begins with continued conversations.


Michael Malcom-Bjorklund, CJE

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

Since my first term as director-at-large ended in 2020, I’ve worked hard to use my voice as a lifelong journalist to bring both scholastic journalists and their advisers.

At the local level, I’ve served as vice president for the Florida Scholastic Press Association these past two years and look forward to continuing to grow our amazing state’s scholastic journalism presence for years to come.

At the national level, I have a goal of increasing the association’s urban presence throughout the country. As someone who grew up in the inner city of Chicago, I can speak to the importance of journalism in my classrooms. I witnessed first hand the power of scholastic journalism at Curie High School and in my diverse newsroom in Lake City, Florida.

Journalism gives everyone a voice and for many — a path and guiding light. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen JEA diversity initiatives reach the front stage of this organization and it’s my hope that if I’m elected onto this board for a second term that I will be able to help advance JEA’s mission in this regard. We have the power to make a real difference in a child’s life. As I can attest to, it takes just one caring teacher to change a life. As both a parent and educator, I will continue to be that guiding light for students.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

I would love to say censorship is the biggest issue facing scholastic journalism, but I don’t know if it’s first or second. While I firmly believe journalism is still alive and thriving, I can’t say with 100% certainty that we have the number of journalism classroom offerings and the number of trained advisers to teach it in a way that properly sustains the level and authenticity of pure journalism standards.

From looking at the number of advisers teaching journalism with little or no background experience to the pure number of actual journalism classes, we are looking at a potential real crisis. I’m not necessarily old, but when I went to high school in the early ’90s, I spent four years in a journalism program. The program wasn’t the exception, but the norm in the Chicagoland area. At Curie High School, I learned the art and craft of journalism from Denise Grzyb. Flash forward nearly 30 years later, and I’m only one of possibly a handful of advisers who teach journalism full-time in Northern Florida.

If we’re talking about truthfully protecting the Fourth Estate for generations to come, it comes down to education. Now, more than ever, we need to educate our journalism educators and I’m not talking about those who come to national and state conventions. I’m talking about those who do not attend their state SPAs, those who act as advisers of their respective yearbooks because some administrator told them they had to and those advisers who spend countless hours on social media endlessly searching and praying for the answers to questions they need to meet that next deadline.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

When I contemplated answering this question, I reflected on why I initially applied with the Journalism Education Association for the same position in 2018. With 32 years of journalism experience at the high school, collegiate and professional levels, as a reporter, designer, editor and adviser, one of the perspectives I bring to the pool is the ability to speak from a professional background.

More than ever, journalists are under fire at the local, national and global level. While some may seek avenues to mute our voice, my hope is that my three-plus decades of experience in the industry will lend a credible increase in volume in-and-out of the classrooms. In addition to my years of experience in the print and online mediums, I’ve had the honor of advising and working in both urban and rural communities. As I’ve learned over my first eight years of advising, having the ability to have diverse communications matters.

Finally, I come equipped with a voice to create a meaningful and authentic curriculum. Just two years ago, I created at the state level a photojournalism course approved and implemented for CTE journalism programs. At present, I am working with the state to adjust the foundational journalism course to meet the needs of students in this new decade.


Jim McCrossen

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

For most of my 32 years in journalism instruction, I’ve concentrated my efforts on our local and state association work to further journalism education. In that work, I’ve learned much about making a difference and helping other journalism teachers and their students excel in our medium and how to help our local and state associations excel in their work. I am ready to expand that mission to the national level.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

Relevance. Being labeled the “enemy of the people” has had a profoundly negative impact on the way people see journalists, and on what students (and perhaps parents and administrators) see as the critical value of taking a journalism course. Us knowing the unique skills we foster in our students, schools and communities is not enough. We have to foster the idea that the value of journalism in every measure of citizenship is something they should care about and want to develop.

This begins with the unique concepts and skills students learn in our classes that are transferable and necessary to any career choice the student makes. In today’s national climate, this may take some convincing. It’s worth it.

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

There is balance needed in everything. The four other journalism teachers in my district are all much younger than I.  I’ve had the opportunity to learn from them, but they have often leaned on my experience to help navigate difficult times. My strength lies in my experienced voice combined with the perspective that I still have room to grow and learn.


Christi Opiela

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

I would like to serve the JEA community because I am always looking for opportunities to help others and to further my own learning. I will be of no use to my students if I become stagnant as an adviser.

I would love to see the JEA mission of responsible scholastic journalism being taught at every school in every state, and smaller rural schools need a spokesperson for them. Until last year, I had no idea that this organization existed and I have been teaching some type of journalism for over 10 years. I think that JEA needs to have a stronger presence in the rural areas to advance their mission statement of diversity and unity. I would like to be that person.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

The biggest challenge facing journalism in general, not just scholastic journalism is the public perception of the field’s lack of integrity. Journalism as a profession has been losing its standing with the public for a long time. Journalists used to be revered and held to the highest of standards. I can remember a time in high school when the adviser for our school paper told me and another editor to write a story, and when we left for the day the adviser changed it and put his byline on the story. That adviser lost all integrity in my eyes and the rest of the class didn’t trust him either. Because of that incident I swore that when I became a teacher and adviser that the students’ integrity and First Amendment rights and responsibilities would be the foundation for my classes.

The integrity of scholastic journalists and journalists should not ever come into question if they are taught from a young age that truth above all else is their end goal when writing a piece. Students need to be taught that informing the public with the unbiased truth is the most important role they play. 

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I think that all voices are important. I feel that sometimes the rural and lower population schools get overlooked and are not represented as well as they could be. Smaller, more rural schools have journalism issues that most of the time get swept under the rug or because of self censorship are not brought to light. We all need a voice, and I would like to be that voice because I think we all matter.


Karla Shotts

Why do you want to serve, and how will you help advance JEA’s mission?

Student journalism is critical in cultivating a well-rounded individual who knows how to openly discuss ideas, debate issues, and dives deep into topics that shape our world. I want to serve on the JEA board because I have seen throughout my career in broadcast journalism and in the classroom how life-changing journalism skills can be in the spectrum of life skills. Our students need to know how to curate factual information, draw attention to troubling issues, and bring the school community together with a continuous stream of impactful stories. JEA not only works to create strong teachers through curriculum and support, but it also promotes professionalism in the classroom. I would be honored to be at the forefront of this ever-changing field.

One issue that is at the heart of my work in the classroom is issues of race and equality. My student population is very diverse and I see firsthand how important it is that journalism stories are balanced with voices that reflect our demographic. This is a heavy lift, but one that I believe needs addressing on a national level.

Also, it is very important that misinformation on all levels is countered with strong media literacy education that begins in elementary school. We are piloting a program that introduces STEM (including journalism) to young students so they understand the importance of using critical thinking skills to analyze information. When our students learn these concepts early and we can build on them in high school, I believe we will see a population that places importance on consuming media with a critical eye.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today?

The greatest challenge facing scholastic journalism education today is finding the strength to keep teaching one of the most life-changing content a student can learn at a time when the field is vilified. I started my career in broadcasting at the age of 19 and it has been my passion since. Sharing it with high school students has been the most rewarding experience of my life. When a student understands the ethics and morality of story telling and then has the drive for finding the truth, it is gratifying. These skills and the hundreds of others learned in journalism classrooms set students up for success in life. 

Why do you believe your voice is an important voice or perspective that needs to be heard?

I believe my voice is an important voice that needs to be heard because I believe there are valuable occupations in our field that fit every academic level of student and skill set. One of my most successful student newscast directors was a special needs student with an eye for details. One star student anchor has trouble making eye contact with other students in the halls. Our students are put in unique situations and find their light where it may have been dimmed in other school settings. I love journalism, its nuances and even its faults. I have built a life through storytelling and am overjoyed when students find their future in it as well.

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