Students kept the news coming despite COVID shut-downs
By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Local news has faced struggles of late in many cities, but good journalism is alive and thriving at Community and Huron High Schools.
Student editors and reporters there were recently honored with Gold Crown rankings from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. The Gold Crown award is the highest recognition given by the CSPA to a student print or digital medium for overall excellence. The awards were given for the 2019-20 school year.
“When COVID hit last year, my newspaper staff didn’t stop reporting,” says Huron English/journalism teacher Sara-Beth Badalamente, advisor to The Emery, which is Huron’s online and print newspaper. “Thanks to the efforts of now senior Mishal Charania, our website and social media became a major news source for our Huron community. Each day we were reporting on something new. This incredible group of students worked as a team and ensured our community had accurate information. And this group continues strong this year.”
“This award honors all of our Communicator journalists and the work that they have done during this pandemic,” says Tracy Anderson, CHS journalism/literature teacher, and advisor to The Communicator, who was recently honored as a Columbia Distinguished Advisor. “They have put in hours and hours of overtime — more than I could have ever imagined — to make sure that they are telling important stories and capturing life in this unprecedented time. I am so proud of them, and I am so grateful that I get to work with these students who inspire and amaze me every single day.”
Click here for the full list of winners.
Managing Editor Mishal Charania has been writing stories for The Emery since her freshman year but formally joined as a junior last year, when she was immediately made the online editor-in-chief, a position created just for her. She says that reporting and working in a team-based environment have helped her come out of her shell and become an extrovert.
“I have also learned the importance of words in a digital society and how much we as an Emery community have an obligation to our Ann Arbor community,” she says.
She says the best story she wrote was about teachers’ pay scale contract negotiations.
“This was my favorite because I connected with so many teachers who I did not previously know and I learned about how teachers struggle behind the scenes,” she says. “It really opened my eyes to the financial situation for teachers in AAPS and how much they give up to teach our students.”
Huron senior Clara Bowman, the print version’s editor-in-chief, joined The Emery as sophomore, becoming one of the youngest on a staff of mainly seniors and a few juniors. Since then, she has helped The Emery evolve from a young publication full of potential to the nationally recognized paper it is today.
Clara says the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic and Ann Arbor Public Schools’ subsequent actions were the turning point of her journalistic career. She made sure to attend all board meetings, reporting major updates on The Emery’s website and social media pages, and often emailing AAPS officials during meetings to get additional information and publish the piece before information was sent to families.
“I do not think it is an understatement to say that at times I was the most informed AAPS student about district news,” she says. “Like many things, the pandemic changed the Emery a lot, but we did not let it stop us. We have been fully virtual since mid-March, yet produced six full issues remotely. All issues were released digitally, but we also took advantage of book pick-ups to print and distribute two of the issues. Our class structure has also been restructured to accommodate our new schedule.”
She says that despite The Emery’s many honors, it remains the only AAPS high school news publication with no school funding to cover printing costs.
“Our whole staff works hard to fundraise, and this year we have been fortunate enough to receive donations from the PTSO to cover costs the few times we printed,” says Clara. “We hope that our national recognition helps us receive additional funding from the Huron administration.”
The Emery was dormant for about eight years before Badalamente was hired in 2015 to bring the program back. The Emery started as a club for the first two years, and with growing interest, became a class.
Mishal says she’ll always remember how stressful it was at points when staff was trying to meet deadlines and when she was learning how to be a good reporter, but those times taught her to be thankful for those who struggled with her and made her better.
“It was through loss and failures that I learned how to be part of the team and eventually was able to make us great overall,” she says of her experience on The Emery, which has a staff of about 30 students.
Mishal’s journalism career will likely continue even after she graduates in June. She plans to major in sports management with a focus in management and marketing at the University of Michigan and hopes to join U-M’s “The Michigan Daily” and The Michiganesian yearbook.
“My plan to continue on U-Mich’s publications is all because of my time on The Emery,” she says.
CHS won a Gold Crown for The Communicator Magazine—both website and social media.
CHS senior Lily Sickman-Garner joined the staff during her sophomore year and says that while it was a bit overwhelming at first, she’s learned a lot about writing, thinking, and listening. She says one of her most memorable stories is an in-depth piece about fast fashion.
“Working with The Communicator in person is one of the things I’ve missed most this year,” she says. “It’s still really fun online, but the atmosphere during class and on production days is difficult to replicate virtually. Some of my favorite memories of The Communicator are of when we were getting a print edition ready and we would all stay after school to work on our articles and designs. We always had pizza for dinner, and we had an amazing view of the sunset through the third floor windows. Everyone was really busy working on their pages and helping each other, and it was just such a productive, motivated environment.”
Lily plans to attend Smith College next year, and—not surprisingly—hopes to join the staff Smith’s student newspaper.
Senior Taisiya Tworek has been on The Communicator newspaper staff since she was a freshman, and has been an editor-in-chief of The Communicator magazine for two years.
“I joined because I knew that CHS boasted The Communicator’s reputation, and I ultimately realized that the class would be a great way to meet my community members,” she says.
Of all the things she’ll treasure about her years working on The Communicator, Taisiya says the close bonds and relationships she’s formed with her advisor, peers, editors, and interviewees—as well as a midnight visit to Insomnia Cookies with co-editors after a long, exhausting night on deadline.
Taisiya, who will attend Brown University next fall to study sociology and English, considers West Side Not Water Hill her most influential story.
“I wrote it during my second semester on staff, and it was really the springboard into my passion for journalism,” she says. “Not only did I find a topic I was dedicated to, but I realized the reverberations of my voice from seeing the impacts my story had in the community.”