Buckeye00For 80 years, students at Buckeye High School in the West Valley turned to their student newspaper when they wanted to find out what was going on at their school.

But two years ago, the paper disappeared. "Like many high school newspapers, there just wasn’t enough money or enough commitment to keep it going", said journalism adviser Stephen Truog.

That changed when Buckeye was selected for the Stardust high school journalism program, a one-of-a-kind effort to revitalize high school journalism. Now, students are producing a news Web site as well as print editions of the Hawk. And some of their articles are being picked up by local community newspapers, Truog said.

Buckeye is one of 10 Arizona high schools participating in the Cronkite School’sbuckeye1 Stardust program, which targets schools with large minority populations that do not have school newspapers or viable journalism programs.

The program is funded by the Stardust Foundation, a non-profit corporation founded in 1993 by Arizona real estate developer and philanthropist Jerry Bisgrove.

In addition to Buckeye, the high schools are Betty H. Fairfax and Maryvale in Phoenix, Coolidge High School, Douglas High School, Holbrook High School, Maricopa High School, Miami High School, Snowflake High School and Sierra Linda High School in Tolleson.

buckeye3All told, nearly 400 students at those schools are taking a variety of journalism classes and producing multimedia news Web sites this fall. They are working with new Mac computers, the latest video and audio editing software, new high-definition video cameras and still cameras as well as audio recorders, microphone, lighting equipment, printers and scanners.

Denice Westover at Snowflake High School knew things were changing for her program when the new equipment began showing up in her classroom in the summer of 2008.

“We never had anything even close to the equipment that the program has provided to us,” she said. “There has been a significant change at our school in journalism because of this program, and more and more students are registering for the course.”

Bettina Tison Bennett, journalism and English instructor at Betty Fairfax High School,buckeye5 had a similar reaction when the equipment began arriving at her school this summer: “I cannot wait to begin using all that we’ve been given and to watch my students go from “Oh my, I’ll never be able to do that” to “Oh wow, look what I just did!”  she said in an e-mail.

She’s also looking forward to the training and support that the program provides.

David Cornelius, director of the Cronkite Stardust program, travels to the schools to conduct training in multimedia skills and help students with their Web sites. He also arranges for journalism professionals to visit the classes to teach everything from grammar and basic reporting to editing and design.  Each year, teachers and students come to the Cronkite School for additional training.

It’s an “incredible mix of resources-- from technology to training to media professionals who are willing to visit our schools,” Tison Bennett said. “Through this program I will be able to help my students take their literacy skills to levels beyond their imagination.  Not only will they become much stronger readers, writers, researchers and presenters, but they will also pick up skills they can use anywhere.”

buckeye6Cornelius said that he’s encouraged by the results after the first full year of the program, and he lists a string of successes.  Miami High School journalism students, for example, have been asked to work on a documentary with a professional filmmaker and also were approached about producing a news program for the local cable company. Buckeye High School students are getting some of their articles printed in professional publications. And at Douglas High School, students are excited about covering issues along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The students really seem to enjoy the multimedia work they get to do, and the teachers get to see students who really care about their work,” he said.

Cornelius said another benefit of the program is that it encourages freedom of speech and the press at the high school level.  Administrators at participating schools sign a First Amendment pledge, agreeing to refrain from censoring student work. That teaches students how to tackle relevant and important stories in a responsible way, Cornelius said.

Jasmeet Verma, an English teacher at Maricopa High School, said the pledge is an important part of doing real journalism. It means students have “the right to voice their opinion sand concerns about the community to the community,” she said.

They also get a chance to do journalism online, using multimedia skills that they find fun and relevant.

 “It is the 21st century part of the program that excites the students” the most, Verma said.

Ronnie Murphy , a senior at Snowflake High School, said he’s enjoyed the program so much he’s badgering his friends to sign up for journalism classes.

 “I tell my friends, ‘It’s worth your time even if you aren’t going to be a journalist,’” he said. “It helps with everything you do. You learn computer skills, writing, interviewing,  dealing with people and problem solving. It just prepares you for life in general.

“I’m really excited about the whole journalism program. It’s my future, and I get to start working on it now.”

Caitlin Torres is currently a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication studying multimedia journalism.This article was originally written for The Cronkite Journal fall 2009 edition.  It is being reprinted with permission of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.