Congratulations are due to the many Washington high school students who invest time in their high school newspaper.
For the past few years, I have been a judge in the Annual Best of Show competition hosted by the Washington Journalism Education Association. Schools can choose to submit what they think is their single best newspaper edition. Every year, I evaluate four newspapers and every year I get different schools.
The disparity in budgets is immediately obvious. Print quality, size of the paper, layout, graphics, writing ability — all of these vary from paper to paper. And these are part of the evaluation rubric.
The other part of the evaluation rubric is based on the paper’s content. The attitudes and voices that make up each paper are completely different. Some layouts and tones are hip, filled with colloquial high school phrases, bold fonts, and contemporary design. Others are authoritative and informative, looking more like your local paper. And then there’s everything in between.
Each paper holds strengths and weaknesses, but every year I am amazed at the overall quality, particularly of one or two of the papers. Not only does the quality far surpass the small paper my high school was capable of producing, but the variety of stories speaks to the diversity and creativity of its creators: the students.
This year, one piece in particular stood out. The subject of the story, a high school junior, explained her frustration when her mother was late to her dance recital. It then became clear that her mother was Mexican and while this girl danced on stage, her mother was being deported. This junior had been born here, raised here, and she always feared this day would come.
When she realized that her mother was missing, she knew what had happened. Evaluating her options, she decided to move in with her father, a man she only partially knew. She continued with her high school education, working hard to make her mom proud. In fact, she has resolved on applying to colleges with a very specific goal: she wants to be a lawyer and she wants to specialize in immigration issues. And someday, she hopes to see her mother again.
Immigration issues isn’t exactly the first topic you might think of when you think of a high school newspaper. Of course, resolving to put yourself through the rest of high school and eight years of higher education to be an immigration lawyer isn’t the first resolution I’d imagine a 17-year-old coming to after her mother has been deported by a country she calls home.
It’s amazing to see the character in these students and to see the power of a well-told story coming from our young writers, photographers, and designers. Here it was. I hope that these students continue to find community, culture, and voice in the pages of these newspapers and move on to bigger venues as they finish their high school careers. These newspapers are filled with stories that need to be told, and they’re being told very well.