A Digital Transformation
It wasn’t too long ago that The Talon, Sheboygan Falls High School’s student newspaper, had fallen on hard times. There was a very small staff, the paper was thin and only published every other month, and readership was low.
Fast forward to today. The Talon is now completely online with an eye-catching design full of high school news as well as features designed specifically to catch student interest -- from the song of the week to fashion reports. Content is updated daily and student engagement is high.
“I think there’s a lot of content in it and that’s great,” said Natallie, one of the paper’s co-editors who helped oversee the digital transformation. “Having it online gets everyone – even it you’re not on the staff – involved.”
Key to the transition to the online newspaper was the high school’s new media studies class that began last fall. Students in the class work on the newspaper and the school yearbook in class and get credit for doing so. This is a change from the past when both publications were club activities that met outside the school day and competed with sports and other activities for student participation.
“Now all these kids get credit for doing all the work,” explained Alexis Hardin, an English teacher who co-teaches the class with Caitlin Gillespie, a special education teacher. “We have a lot more kids and a different dynamic of students.”
The class has also given students hands-on experience in real-life skills they may use in the workplace someday. They get experience with writing, editing, photography, video production and marketing.
Because the students have a variety of interests and ability levels, they are divided into groups depending on what they are interested in doing.
“It’s very project-based,” Hardin said. “Each student gets to work on something they really enjoy.”
Working together as a team with common goals is also an important skill to help students become career-ready.
“It’s not like a normal class,” Arnu, a sophomore, explained. “It’s more like you set your own goals and try to achieve them. If you don’t achieve your goals, you will affect everyone in the class.”
He credits the class for also teaching him responsibility, time management and respect for others.
“It enhanced my characteristics as an individual,” he said.
Newspaper staff members talk with editors to decide on a story to report on. Natallie and her co-editor, Alyssa, review and edit the stories electronically.
Other students maintain the publications’ social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Students also practice photography skills by taking pictures of students, sports, extra-curricular activities, and classes. Jack, the staff photo editor, maintains organization of all incoming photos and edits them for publication use.
Connor, a sophomore athlete, joined the class because he wanted to work on the yearbook. He was not happy to learn he had to work on the newspaper, too, until he came up with the idea of producing video highlights of high school games. The highlights have become a very popular feature, especially among the athletes who have been filmed, gaining the paper a whole new set of fans.
Arianna and Lauren, both sophomores, run the YouTube channel, carefully organizing videos into categories like sports and activities, so people can find what they want to watch easily. They also spend a lot of time dubbing the videos with subtitles, so viewers with hearing impairments can enjoy them as well.
Dakota, a senior, dropped a study hall to take the class. He decided to try it to see if communication was a possible career option. He found his niche writing fashion articles – a very popular newspaper feature -- and says he may now pursue communication as a minor in college.
Because the school budget cannot totally support the publications, students approach local businesses and ask them to run ads. That revenue has helped the class buy new cameras and a computer. The ads are all digital, and there is even a system for purchasing the yearbook online. Revenue is also used by the staff marketing team to promote both publications while students learn real-life applications.
Just as in the real world, teachers encourage the students to investigate and connect with the right sources for stories and projects on their own.
“It takes them out of their comfort zone,” Gillespie said.
One of the initial difficulties was trying to engage student interest in the new publication. The newspaper is now streamed on two prominently displayed televisions – one in the main hallway and the other in the lunchroom. Students see something interesting as they walk by and go back to the newspaper website to check it out.
Hardin said she has seen student’s writing abilities improve dramatically because of the class.
“Getting to see students improve by writing about what they want to is awesome,” she said.
But students have learned other skills as well, skills that will serve them well in the workplace someday. Arnu, a sophomore, said the class has taught him responsibility, time management, a respect for others and the importance of working well as a team.
“It’s not like a normal class,” he said. “It’s more like you set your own goals and try to achieve them. If you don’t achieve your goals, you will affect everyone in the class.”
Now that they have mastered many of the basics, students are continuing to think of new ways to expand the publications and their new digital presence. The Talon is indeed back on solid ground.