Affordable inspiration: Workshops, contests help students find their confidence

Affordable inspiration: Workshops, contests help students find their confidence

By Val Kibler, MJE, JEA vice president

So often when diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are discussed, the focus turns to race. I encourage everyone to pay more attention to two groups that many of us find in scholastic journalism: those impacted by socioeconomic standing and geographic barriers.

I began my teaching and journalistic advising career in the small southwest Virginia town of Marion. That’s about one hour from the Tennessee line and Bristol, but probably an additional two hours to the farthest southwest tip of Virginia near Kentucky. Most events held centrally in our state take place in Charlottesville or Richmond, which were four to five hours from Marion — one way.

Sometimes attending events even in our own state meant we would need an overnight stay in a hotel, which was typically cost prohibitive, especially in an area with a much lower cost of living and lower average salaries.

If our program was going to grow, we needed more than I was able to do in my classroom by myself. 

I started by taking kids to one-day events in east Tennessee and within reasonable driving distance, but we needed more. I was quickly learning it wasn’t truly the knowledge we lacked, but rather the confidence. It’s hard to explain, but my students had this self-imposed limitation that they weren’t as good as kids from other areas of Virginia and certainly not as good as “big city kids” from other states.

I got a postcard in the mail advertising JEA’s then regional convention that was being held in Boston the following fall. I threw it in the trash convinced there was no way the school board would approve a trip like that. Most of my students had never left the county, much less the state. And how would we ever pay for it? As the day went on, I thought more and more about it. I finally dug it out of the trash and decided, “Let the school board be the ones to tell me ‘no’. I’m not going to close the door on these kids.” And lo and behold they said yes … if we could raise the money.

And so we did. We sold everything under the sun. We worked our butts off as a team, and we made enough to charter a bus to go to Boston. We attended multiple sessions, toured Boston in our free time, ate in cool places and even convinced our bus driver to take the route through downtown New York City on the way home so the kids could experience Broadway at night. Not a play, mind you, but the lights and the excitement of being someplace they had never been.

Without their knowledge, I entered them in what were then called write-off competitions (now National Student Media Contests). My absolute worst student along on that trip received an honorable mention in her contest, and I’m convinced that alone single-handedly changed the trajectory of our program.

You see, those kids were smart enough all along to compete with kids from all over the U.S. They had many of the same experiences as the fellow scholastic journalists they met. But it took this experience to make them believe in themselves. That’s what their particular socioeconomic and geographical limitations had done: kept them from believing in themselves.

We started exchanging newspapers with schools all over the nation. We were covering the same issues and we learned from the best publications out there. What happened? We got better. Kids began challenging themselves. I began challenging them more, and their parents and the school system saw the results when they just believed they could do it. We worked harder to attend more and more workshops and conventions. The newspaper staff grew from seven students to 54. Why? Because of the pride the kids had found in themselves and their product.

So how can this help?

I think this is one of the easiest places where we can make our students experience more equity and inclusion. And the pandemic has really made this easier for us. With the advent of Zoom in our world, kids are one internet connection away from being trained by some of the best advisers in the country.

Enroll your kids in summer workshops now. Learn from the best instructors without the cost of travel, lodging or food.

We all appreciate things more when we work hard for them. I’d encourage you to teach your kids the value of hard work. Help those kiddos who are willing to help themselves. Don’t settle for believing it’s just too expensive or it’s just too far. Figure out a way around those barriers. There are a million cliches that apply here, but where there’s a will, there truly is a way. 

Here are some affordable programs you might want to check out with your students this summer:

University of Mississippi Pre-College Program

Journalism in the Age of Social Media
Dates: June 21-July 2, 2021
Grades: Rising 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders
Cost: $25
Format: Virtual
Registrations due: May 15, 2021

This exciting and fun digital camp experience will shine a light on the art of sharing  journalistic stories for the next generation. The focus will be on finding interesting topics, getting interesting information and telling interesting stories and the emphasis will be on presenting these stories in an innovative and imaginative manner. Attendees will use social media and video sharing platforms like TikTok and YouTube to get stories out to readers.

The program meets virtually every other day for approximately three hours. Each meeting will have a specific focus and task to be completed prior to the next meeting. There may even be a surprise guest speaker or two.

By the end of the camp, each participant will have at least one complete story to share with their circle and a tool box full of ideas, apps and new skills that can be used in future storytelling.

Media Now

Nine Media Now courses available on-demand — Photography, Writing, Design, Podcasting, Social Media, Yearbook, Editorial Leadership, Video Storytelling, Advising Student Publications. Each course offers a variety of videos from award-winning advisers to professional journalists — all catered to help scholastic media programs. 

Media Now has more than 140 different videos available, now accessible for a full year from the time of purchase. A single course cost $49 or purchase them all for the low price of $199. 

The great thing is, they are all available right now.

Advisers can use the videos individually to give personal skills a super charge or use them with classes to help students level up. Students can even register and get their own access to any and all courses as well.

Videos are each around 15 minutes and many have lessons and handouts included. 

SNO Academy (School Newspapers Online)

Students said they were inspired by meeting peers from all over the country and the lessons they learned made them excited to get back to work. Teachers said it was validating, resourceful and, frankly, therapeutic. 

SNO Academy partners with a group of the nation’s top journalism advisers to bring a series of live, interactive virtual classes designed for student journalists and media advisers of all skill and experience levels. 

Classes start at $49 per seat and are limited to 12 participants, covering a wide range of journalism-related topics including writing, reporting, interviewing, multimedia, newsroom management and staff leadership. 

Media Mentors

Journalism mentors available for students. Schedule a free 30-minute session with a mentor to get advice, guidance or to get answers to general questions about the media industry. Come ready with questions and do a little research on your mentor’s work before you show up.

Other options

Summer Journalism Workshops at Ball State University.
Details to be announced

Jayhawk Media Workshop at the University of Kansas.
Free program; details coming


This article series of resources JEA is recommending to advisers in an effort to provide antiracist teaching resources to educators. JEA is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its membership and practices. See the official statement here.

Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

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