Chuck the Curriculum for the Community

Sometimes breaking the rules is what’s best.

Sometimes veering off the lesson plan works better for everyone.

As journalists, we are trained to be objective and fair by not becoming part of the story or taking sides.

As journalism advisers, we hear the warnings “don’t let your kids fall into being the school district’s PR machine” or “if you do one special project, they’ll expect you to do it every year.”

As a strong supporter of student press rights, I absolutely believe we need to teach our journalism students to practice responsible journalism and exercise their rights. They should tackle the ticklish, tough or tremendously difficult stories.

But they should also have the opportunities to use their journalistic skills for the greater good to benefit their community. Community can encompass both the school community or the community outside the school doors.

This semester, I received an email from our school district’s new media liaison asking if I had students who could produce a video for a local organization’s spring event. In the past, I would give some line along the lines of “I’ll ask the students if they have extra time to dedicate to this and get back to you.” All too often with a 10-minute daily news show, weekly online updates and monthly newsmagazine, there just wasn’t time in the production schedule to leave room for students to produce such work.

This sophomore and junior accepted the work to create two promotional videos for a local education center specializing in special needs children. The videos were shown at the annual fund raiser event and helped the center raise more than $100,000.

Sure, it meant these two missed a couple days of instruction, had to negotiate extended deadlines for other work on the regular show, felt swamped by all the work, etc. But it also meant they worked with a real-world client with ideas of her own, learned what it was like to tell a story within a marketing framework rather than journalistic, and learned to coordinate schedules between the client and themselves with a hard deadline with a lot riding on the quality of their work.

In the end, chucking the curriculum gave these broadcast students a chance to make a difference in their community, an experience unlike any other in our regular broadcast curriculum, and a better understanding of how much their work could touch others.

To me, those are reasons enough to break the norm.

Christina Geabhart

Christina Geabhart, MJE, advises a daily news broadcast, the monthly newsmagazine and online for Oak Park High School, plus a district sports broadcast program for NKC Schools in North Kansas City, MO. She has been the 2009 Missouri Interscholastic Press Association Journalism Teacher of the Year, a 2009 Dow Jones Distinguished Adviser of the Year and is one of the 2017 JEA Distinguished Broadcast Advisers of the Year. She has also served on KC metro, state and national committees and boards for journalism.

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