Head of School Blog: Student Journalism

Matt Green
I once heard the summer work that tends to occupy us year-round employees in schools referred to as “administrivia.”  It’s true, we do spend our days reviewing handbooks, compiling mailings, populating calendars, processing transcripts, and report cards, and closing out fiscal years.  Schools ignore “boring but important” matters at their peril.  

But the summer affords us other opportunities as well. For example, I have spent hours of my day at my desk just thinking about the next steps we can take to further operationalize FA Forward, our strategic vision, and its overarching theme of resilience and adaptation to change... climate and environment change to be sure but also changes in demographics and the migration of peoples, changes as the result of ubiquitous access to constantly changing technology, changes in public health conditions,  changes in socio-political and economic structures and orders, an interlinked intersection all part of an era of widespread global change which we think will increasingly be this generation’s primary challenge and opportunity.  So this summer allows me the time and space to consider how to take a big idea like this and scale it to fit a small 7-12 independent school on Cape Cod.  

But my favorite (professional) summer pursuit is networking with colleagues near and far, and I had one such opportunity this past week, when I was honored to attend and present at the inaugural Private School Journalism Association Symposium, organized by David Cutler of Brimmer and May School.  We heard from Erica Salkin, keynote speaker and author of Private Schools and Student Media: Support Mission, Students, and Community, who argued compellingly that a robust student journalism culture was a necessary and natural outgrowth of any good independent school’s mission statement.  Consider our own mission statement, what better way to “embolden each student to take creative and intellectual risks to confidently engage the challenges of our times” than to provide a forum for students to exercise their voices and discover their power as change agents.

This brings me to the small role I and Dr. Ben Parsons, founding faculty advisor to our student newspaper The Chandlery, played in the conference.  The panels were mostly populated by representatives from larger schools with long-established newspapers, among them Harvard Westlake School (CA), the American School of London,  and St. John’s School (TX).  We, on the other hand, were asked to tell the story of a small school that undertook, against the backdrop of the pandemic, the nurturing of a relatively new online students newspaper.  We lavished deserving praise on co-founder Maya Peterson and co-founder and Editor in Chief Noah Glasgow, as well as Lead Reporter Alice Tan before turning our attention to the important role that The Chandlery is already playing in student life.  

Because in just over a year, The Chandlery, especially in the absence of school meetings and other gatherings, has quickly become the public forum where FA students are indicating what’s important to them.  A quick sampling of titles includes: “Make a Change: Vote Local,” The “Challenges of Environmental Racism,” The Social Side of Social Justice, and “Gun Control and the Concern from Both Sides,” not to mention thoughtful reporting on the school’s schedule process, its approach to Covid-19 decision making, and how well (or poorly) it adapted its traditions this year.  

A school newspaper is the epitome of project-based learning.  It gives students opportunities to practice leadership skills, collaborate and compromise, meet deadlines, learn digital publication skills, appreciate the implications of producing a very public product, and of course, writing and designing for a purpose and an audience.  And they do all of this without the supposedly motivating influence of a grade.  But best of all, student journalism allows them to practice the important role of questioning, appropriately, the status quo.  I sat in on a staff meeting this spring and told the students, “If you are doing your job, when I see you coming down the hall, I will want to run the other way.”  

“But don’t worry,” I assured them, “I won’t.”  First, because I know we’re about to learn from each other, and second, one of the tough parts (and best parts) of being at a small school is that there are just no good hiding places! 
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