by: Kyle Carter, Richland R-4

Our journalism program at Richland High School is student-driven. Yes, I’m the teacher and, yes, I input the grades, but students brainstorm the ideas. They set the deadlines, interview, write, photograph, teach new staff, sell ads, build content, make editorial and staffing decisions and even decide how my classroom will be designed each school year.

Coming out of my experience in the journalism world, I am used to having what all good newsrooms do - a war room (where the paper or yearbook is built), a conference room where interviews take place and a recreational area where brainstorming is greatly encouraged. While we only have one classroom for our program, we have been able to divide up Room 54 to fit all three of those needs.

Another way my yearbook staff is unique is in the amount of responsibility my editors have and their honesty and trust in me. When we take on new staff, we always start with teaching the basics of photography and writing, but after that my editor-in-chief oversees their more on-the-ground or informal education. I’ve had EICs that were very hands-on and taught one-on-one. Others would call our staff together as a group and teach something as small as headline writing, or as big as interviewing.

Not only do they do this every year, passing the knowledge from student to student (instead of teacher to student), but we’ve also been afforded the opportunity to teach other schools throughout the state and nation. Just last year, our yearbook publishing company asked my staff of 15 to host a Workshop Day with four other schools, all of which were up to 20 times as big as our school. We had so many students attending that we didn’t have the facilities to host it at our own high school, so one of the much larger schools hosted the event. They wanted the knowledge my students bring to the table, so it was neat as a teacher to be able to step back and watch them teach others. It was a great night, full of instruction about photography, designing pages and even some our favorite team-building activities.

One of the coolest things we do, and one of the biggest learning tools at my disposal, is my staff having the ability to photograph off campus. Yes, it’s cool to walk students into a press conference or political rally when the President of the United States is the main speaker, but my students have also covered Major League Baseball, the PBR and hundreds of musical talents (including Garth Brooks with a photo and interview session). We’ve been credentialed to photograph SEC football games, USA Women’s Sled Hockey and professional boxing. To date, my students have captured cover art for five different national magazines, as well as for baseball cards and magazines, posters, giveaways and more.

I cannot explain the value of taking a student outside of their normal classroom coverage rut and letting them be a part of the national or state media. Learning how to sharpen their skills on a bigger level, even if it’s a local rodeo, is invaluable. Experiencing something outside their norm forces them to think differently, photograph differently and work differently - all making them better-prepared, more well-rounded journalists.

I would encourage teachers to find a way to motivate their students to challenge themselves. One of the ways that we do this is through state and national photo contests. Even if they don’t win, many of the contests come with a review or critique of their work that can help them become better at what they do. However, my caveat is that everyone must be on the same team. When we participate in contests, everyone on staff is happy no matter who wins. I’ve had All-State journalists not win anything in a national competition, while one of our incoming freshmen takes home first place. It is especially important for editors to take as much pride and joy in the work of their staff as they do in their own work.

If that can be cultivated in an organization (yearbook staff, business staff, or anywhere else), you are going to have an excellent team with a fantastic culture. This is not to say that they are not going to have their moments of doubt and trepidation but, overall, if they cheer for one another and have each other’s backs, things will work out well in the end.