Student journalists gain professional experience

By Greg Gelpi

They're still in high school, and yet they're already published writers.

From developing story ideas to sending their work to the presses, Mt. Zion High School students run the full gamut of the journalism process.

"I like being able to express your ideas about your school and your community," Aleta Watson, 16, said. "I like hearing people's responses on things."

As students, the young journalists provide a unique perspective and know what is happening with students and within the school.

"It's a really good feeling when people come up to you and say they read your story," Janey Hudson said.

Instead of taking home a class paper to show her mother, Hudson said she takes home copies of the News Daily. Her mother posts them on the refrigerator, emails them to friends and passes them around church.

Athern said relatives in Pennsylvania, who have never been to Georgia, have even read her stories.

The students explore high school culture like tattoos, body piercing and fashion, while also informing students of dress code changes, sports and other items of interest to the student body.

The staff even developed a Mt. Zion-oriented horoscope that uses student groups, such as band members and Goths, rather than zodiac signs.

The program allows students to go though the process and get a glimpse of what it's like to be a working journalist, Jim Lester, who teaches the Mt. Zion journalism class, said. Four of his former students are studying journalism in college.

It takes trust on Lester's part, Athern said. The aspiring journalists, wearing press badges, go outside of class to interview students, faculty and staff in pursuit of stories.

"I'm the only one who is in (Principal Don Stout's office) almost every day who is not in there for a bad thing," Athern said.

Lester started a newspaper program while teaching at a school in Tennessee, he said. He is also a published writer himself, co-authoring books with his father, including "Writing Research Papers."

"They like to see the end result of the product come out," Lester said. "It allows them a lot of opportunities to express themselves creatively. When we get close to a publication date, they feel a little bit of the pressure of a real newspaper."

The Mt. Zion students, along with students at all Clayton County high schools, participated in the Newspapers in Education program through the News Daily. The program publishes the work of the high schools weekly in the newspaper.

The Newspapers in Education program also provides newspapers to Clayton County schools.

Students can "learn current events and what's happening in the world," Leonard Crane, the circulation manager of the News Daily said. "You make them a more well-rounded individual."

The NIE program focuses on fourth through eighth grades, and a curriculum can be included with the program, Crane said.

"I don't expect a 4-year-old to learn about the PLO, but it's important for them to get into the habit of learning what's going on," he said.