Invisible heroes share knowledge, love with journalism students


Jenna Liu

[dropcap color=”#” bgcolor=”#” sradius=”0″]A[/dropcap]s high school students flood the rotundas of the Westin Hotel for the National High School Journalism Conference, many advisers will be left waiting in the lobby for their kids to return. As always, their students are their first priority and are celebrated with award ceremonies and accolades. But behind every gold-lettered ‘Pacemaker Finalist’ ribbon is an adviser who has given up the same weekday nights, edited just as many stories and contributed greatly to each publication. They are the heroes we rarely deserve, but always need.[heading]Advisers show off their inner superhero[/heading][vc_masonry_media_grid style=”lazy” item=”basicGrid_VerticalFlip” grid_id=”vc_gid:1461005616847-6bfc59ff-1f79-10″ include=”284735,284734,284733,284731,284729,284728″]photos by Abby Kempf[heading]Advisers reveal their powers[/heading][dropcap color=”#” sradius=”0″]W[/dropcap]hen Rachel Chrest was a little girl, she would publish her own ‘family newsletters,’ chock full with the latest buzz surrounding the Chrests, and mail them to relatives scattered all across the continental United States. Those small pamphlets initiated a love for journalism that first led her to study broadcast journalism at the University of Minnesota, and then, several years later, become a high school media adviser herself.
“I work at a small charter school so I have the freedom to really do what I want with the program and I have a great group of students who are interested in the content and who really keep it going each year,” Chrest said. “
At the NHSJC conference in Los Angeles, California, Chrest joins hundreds of other media advisers in accompanying students to three days of journalism education. The role of an adviser can cover a range of duties–from helping students edit videos to critiquing writing to occasionally acting as a second parent.
For Tom Stock, the head of Milwaukee-based Oak Creek High School’s video production department, a good media adviser will let his or her students explore their own interests, with minimal interference.
“I always encourage my students to come up with their own ideas. I think that’s the hardest thing to do.” Stock said. “Once they come up with idea I may offer some advice, but I believe in trying to remain as much hands-off as possible.”
Stock has been involved with high school journalism since 1997 and knows the commitment it takes to advise a school publication. When he and his staff cover sporting events, they are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. As a result, he has been able to form connections with students, some of whom he still remembers many years after their graduations.
“I got a student who was in just two of my TV classes and by his own admission, was a screw-up in high school,” “He did everything that you don’t want to do in high school. He almost didn’t graduate, but he did, and he became a welder. I’m probably more proud of him than others who worked in motion pictures and film.”
infographic by Stephanie Kang
It is not just advisers who value the connections they form with students. Natalie Hernandez, a junior at Mayfair High School in Lakewood, CA, said that her journalism adviser, Kari McDaniel, is almost like a second mother.
“She’s awesome and amazing. She loves what she does and it shows,” Hernandez said. “She teaches us because she really, truly wants us to learn. She genuinely really cares about journalism and is so open and transparent with us. We feel like we can be the exact same way with her.”
While Stock, Chrest and McDaniel all have several years under their belts, the journey to becoming an experienced media adviser always has to have a beginning. Kristen Taylor’s introduction kicked off five years ago, when the then-English teacher was asked to take over the journalism department.
“It was kind of like a biology teacher learning how to teach chemistry; it was very different. [The class and I] just kind of got through it day by day,” Taylor said. “I always resort to research when I don’t know what I’m doing, so I just did a lot of reading and reaching out to people I knew who had been involved with journalism in the past.”
The work paid off. Since its inception, the publication Taylor advises has turned into a thriving digital publication, even winning a National Pacemaker Award last year.
“I think [to be a good adviser] you have to be highly organized and I think you have to be a team leader and share your enthusiasm and joy about what you’re doing,” Taylor said. “I think a good adviser always has to think about purpose because it’s very easy for students to get caught up and lose track of why they’re doing this.”[heading]Transforming from adviser to advocate[/heading][dropcap color=”#” bgcolor=”#” sradius=”0″]W[/dropcap]hile most people could likely discern Taylor’s daily duties as a media adviser, she also plays another role that might not be as obvious to some, but that she considers to be essential to her job.
“Good advisers should all have a really solid background in law and ethics in scholastic journalism. They have to know the laws of their state; California, for example, has a wonderful freedom of expression law,” Taylor said. “We actually just won the First Amendment award this year and we’re only the third private school ever to win it. I’m prouder of that than a Pacemaker or anything like that.”
The influence advisers have on student press freedom can be significant. Marcela Valadez, an adviser at Bell Gardens High School in California, has had to fight for her students’ journalism rights multiple times this year.
“One instance involved a smell in our building. There’s a plumbing issue that’s letting off methane and it smells like rotten egg during fifth period on a regular basis,” Valadez said. “One of my students said, you know, we should write an article about this, an editorial. We can’t function and we can’t focus when the smell is pervading the entire building.”
Once Valadez’ student did some additional research, she found that certain types of gas can cause people to get sick, which she included in her article. At that point, the administration attempted to kill the student’s piece.
“I said, ‘Well, this problem has been in existence since the building opened in 2005 and it hasn’t gone away and it hasn’t been fixed. Our principal said, ‘You can’t write anything about this, you can’t post that they’re not doing anything,’’’ Valadez said. “I had to kindly tell him that students in California have among the highest press freedom. We cannot tell them what they can and cannot publish. As an advisor, it’s just my job to make sure that anything they do publish is responsibly written.”[TS_VCSC_Image_Hotspot_Container hotspot_image=”284825″ el_file1=””][TS_VCSC_Image_Hotspot_Single hotspot_positions=”11,36″ hotspot_color_dot=”#000000″ hotspot_color_circle=”#dd3333″ hotspot_color_pulse=”#dd3333″ content_tooltip_title=”Aiding the community” content_tooltip_content_html=”SGlnaCUyMHNjaG9vbCUyMGpvdXJuYWxpc20lMjBzdHVkZW50cyUyMGFyZSUyMG1vcmUlMjBsaWtlbHklMjB0byUyMHZvbHVudGVlciUyMGluJTIwYSUyMGhvc3BpdGFsJTJDJTIwY2xpbmljJTIwb3IlMjBjYXJlJTIwZmFjaWxpdHklMkMlMjBhbG9uZyUyMHdpdGglMjB2b2x1bnRlZXIlMjB0byUyMGFzc2lzdCUyMGNoaWxkcmVuJTIwb3IlMjBhZHVsdHMlMjB3aXRoJTIwZGlzYWJpbGl0aWVzLg==”][TS_VCSC_Image_Hotspot_Single hotspot_positions=”9,46″ hotspot_color_dot=”#000000″ hotspot_color_circle=”#dd3333″ hotspot_color_pulse=”#dd3333″ content_tooltip_title=”Civic duty” content_tooltip_content_html=”SGlnaCUyMHNjaG9vbCUyMGpvdXJuYWxpc20lMjBzdHVkZW50cyUyMGFyZSUyMG1vcmUlMjBsaWtlbHklMjB0byUyMGJlJTIwYXBwb2ludGVkJTIwdG8lMjBvciUyMHJ1biUyMGZvciUyMHNjaG9vbCUyMG9mZmljZSUyQyUwQW9yZ2FuaXplJTIwYSUyMHNjaG9vbCUyMHBvbGl0aWNhbCUyMGdyb3VwJTIwb3IlMjBjYW1wYWlnbi4lMjBUaGV5JTIwYWxzbyUyMGFyZSUyMG1vcmUlMjBsaWtlbHklMjB0byUyMHBhcnRpY2lwYXRlJTIwaW4lMjBhJTIwc3R1ZGVudCUyMG1vdmVtZW50cyUyMHRvJTIwY2hhbmdlJTIwc2Nob29sJTIwcnVsZXMlMkMlMjBwcm9jZWR1cmVzJTIwb3IlMjBwb2xpY2llcy4lMEE=”][TS_VCSC_Image_Hotspot_Single hotspot_positions=”8,54″ hotspot_color_dot=”#000000″ hotspot_color_circle=”#dd3333″ hotspot_color_pulse=”#dd3333″ content_tooltip_title=”Jumpstarting their futures” content_tooltip_content_html=”SGlnaCUyMHNjaG9vbCUyMGpvdXJuYWxpc20lMjBzdHVkZW50cyUyMGFyZSUyMG1vcmUlMjBsaWtlbHklMjB0byUyMHBhcnRpY2lwYXRlJTIwaW4lMjBhJTIwcHJvZ3JhbSUyMHRvJTIwYm9vc3QlMjBjb21tdW5pdHklMjBvciUyMG5laWdoYm9yaG9vZCUyMHByaWRlJTJDJTIwYWxvbmclMjB3aXRoJTIwaG9sZGluZyUyMGElMjBwYXJ0LXRpbWUlMjBqb2IlMjBkdXJpbmclMjB0aGUlMjBzY2hvb2wlMjB5ZWFyJTIwb3IlMEF3b3JraW5nJTIwZnVsbCUyMHRpbWUlMjBhdCUyMGElMjBwYXlpbmclMjBqb2IlMjBkdXJpbmclMjB0aGUlMjBzdW1tZXIu”][/TS_VCSC_Image_Hotspot_Container]source: American Press Institute
interactive infographic by Stephanie Kang[heading]All that comes with the cape[/heading][dropcap color=”#” bgcolor=”#” sradius=”0″]T[/dropcap]hough the role of the adviser can take on many forms, few question their importance to high school publications. Stock credits advisers’ influences on staff members to the freedom journalism provides for young minds.
“I think in these types of programs, the students appreciate the teachers who let them discover themselves,” Stock said. “As a former teenager myself, I don’t remember much about my English or Math teacher, but I remember my Theatre Arts teacher. The memorable teachers are the ones that you spend time with, not because you have to, but because it’s interesting.
Still, there are some advisers who don’t always step up to the plate. For Valadez, who participated in journalism in high school, the mistakes she saw her adviser make have taught her how to lead her own students.
“I had an adviser, but he didn’t make as much of a positive impact as I feel like he could have. It was more social and bonding among the staff, but not so much skills-based,” Valadez said. “When I became an adviser, I wanted my students to really know the impact that journalism has and just be respectful of the craft and not necessarily see it as something that was only fun to do, but something that they had a responsibility to do properly.”
Both Valadez and Taylor agree that advisers are present to help their students navigate the world of journalism and provide whatever support is necessary.
“My job is to help students to do their job. My job is to serve as an adviser in the most literal sense. I am there to facilitate, to advise, to help them through difficult situations, to remind them of purpose, to be a resource,” Taylor said. “Of course I’m there to teach basic skills, but once they get those skills and they’re honing and perfecting their craft, my job is to be their cheerleader and their advocate.”[TS-VCSC-Vimeo content_vimeo=”″]video by Abby Kempf