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High school newspapers a valuable training ground for the future

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 8:40 p.m.
Linda Harkcom | For The Independent-Observer
Southmoreland High School “Tam O’Shanter” staff members Mitch Ridenour, Zachary Ripple and Gaige Pavlocak, check stories off that have been completed for the school’s final edition of the newspaper for this school year.
Linda Harkcom | For The Independent-Observer
Southmoreland High School seniors Jacob Hixon and Kaidia Pickels, both of Scottdale, work on the “Senior Edition” of the school’s newspaper, which is the final edition of the year and the only paper not solely produced online.
Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier
Mt. Pleasant Area High School “The Cymbal” co-editor Rebecca Mohar, 18, proofs stories for the paper’s final edition for the school year.
Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier
Mt. Pleasant Area High School “The Cymbal” co-editor Ian Hoover works on the final edition of the newspaper for this school year. Students who take journalism not only get to learn writing and interviewing skills, but also get to learn computer programs that are used by commercial newspapers.

Many area students each year get to take on the role of reporters, photojournalists and editors by working on their high school newspapers.

For some, the experience is a way to explore a possible career. Others just want to try something new.

For most, however, the school newspaper is an opportunity to gain valuable skills that will serve them in life.

“High school newspapers are a great feeding ground, not only for future journalists but for writers and readers in general. It's great for high school students to get into the habit of being involved in their community, whether they continue into journalism or not. And it's not just academic. High school newspapers have a rich history of uncovering abuses and holding school boards and administrators accountable,” said Andrew Conte, director of Point Park News Service at Point Park University.

Journalism instructors at Mt. Pleasant Area High School and Southmoreland High School echoed Conte's feelings.

Southmoreland High's English and journalism teacher Chuck Brittain said working on the school's newspaper helps students to develop their communication skills.

“Communication is a big part of our world. You never know what skills you are going to need down the road, and communication skills in today's society are vital,” he said.

Melissa Gumbita, journalism teacher at Mt. Pleasant Area High, said the program is so important that she kept the journalism program by using it as a club for the 2011-12 school year when it was cut because of budget constraints. The program was reinstated as a class for the 2012-13 year.

“I did it for the students. They need it — both the people who write for the paper and those who read it,” Gumbita said. “I think it's important for students to have an experience that is more job-related. It actually gives them writing skills they wouldn't get anywhere else. It is the most career-related elective that we have in this building.”

Mt. Pleasant Area High senior Ian Hoover, 18, of Mt. Pleasant, is leaving for the Army after graduation, where he will pursue a major in tank warfare and a minor in basic combat. He worked on the school newspaper, “The Cymbal,” for two years. He has been a reporter and co-editor for the 2012-13 year.

“I believe the class in important. It gets you to be more outgoing. People who might never have talked to you might start talking to you. You also learn basic skills, like taking notes, asking questions, and you learn different computer programs as well,” Hoover said.

“The Cymbal” co-editor Rebecca Mohar, 18, said that before taking the class this year, she had never considered a career in journalism.

“As of right now, I don't see it in my future, but I'm not cutting it out. It's definitely an option I can see myself doing,” Mohar said.

Both Gumbita and Brittain worked on the papers where they went to high school. Gumbita went on to study journalism in college. Brittain, who was on the staff of the SHS paper in the 1970s, then called “The Tartan,” did not go on to study journalism in college but instead chose English as his focus. In addition to teaching, he is also a part-time reporter for the Tribune-Review.

“It really had a profound effect on my life because it created a love of writing at an early age,” he said.

SHS senior Mitch Ridenour, 18, of Mt. Pleasant feels what he has learned in his two years on the staff of the “Tam ‘O Shanter” will help him as he enters Point Park University in the fall as a communications major.

“It's given me some people skills I didn't have before. It's helped me to talk with people, ask the questions I need to and transfer it into writing,” Ridenour said.

SHS senior Kaidia Pickels said she also feels the experience will benefit her while majoring in Global Liberal Studies.

“This program has helped me to learn different styles of writing that will really help me in college,” she said.

The 60 SHS journalism students learned additional skills this year when the paper published almost exclusively online for the first time. Only the final edition of this school year's paper was printed.

SHS senior Zachary Ripple, 18, of Mt. Pleasant said the switch to online was well received by students who were able to access stories more quickly since the new format allows for stories to be published as soon as they are ready.

“Having it on the Internet has made everything a lot faster, and it's really cool to have people from all over the country be able to read your article,” Ripple said.

Brittain said switching to an online version not only helped expose students to the direction most papers are heading but also was very cost effective.

He also commended the administration for seeing the value in the class and being very supportive of it.

Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.

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