ENCINITAS — Saint John School’s journalism program is no stranger to awards.
The Eagle Pride Publisher picked up best in show among middle-school papers in 2010 and 2011 from the San Diego County Fair. This year the paper set the bar higher with national acclaim — the program won the Scholastic Student Journalism contest for print publications, grades three through eight.
Co-editor Ameya Patel, an eighth-grader, believes this year’s paper was especially successful because its staff listened to readers and went hyper-local.
“We get feedback from the paper each year,” Patel said. “One thing that everyone said is that they wanted more Saint John’s community news. That’s what we went for.”
Indeed, the front page of the Eagle Pride’s fall edition, which won the national award, features a story about an alumni who was left paralyzed by a rugby accident, as well as an article about student council.
Seventh-grader Nico Pascale, a reporter who co-authored the rugby piece, said a lot of people were curious about the player’s recovery, inspiring the article.
“It hits close to home for a lot of people at the school,” he said.
Inside of the award-winning edition, features cover everything from the school’s Wi-Fi network supporting new technology to changes in uniform guidelines.
Printing two papers each school year, the process begins with students scribbling on a whiteboard at the beginning of each semester.
“We brainstorm everything that people will care about,” Patel said, adding that the paper this year included comics and more recipes to attract a wider audience.
From there, students go about interviewing relevant people and answering who, what, why, when, where and how — the foundation of journalism — in their stories. Those in the club meet once a week, reviewing each other’s articles and adding suggestions where necessary.
Because of the level of collaboration involved, teacher Teresa Roberts, a former editor and reporter who heads the program, said the students deserve the credit for the award.
“We’re very much a student-run paper,” Roberts said. “They come up with the ideas and run the show. I only advise them in some places.”
“They have power and shape the paper — that’s why I think they’re drawn to it,” Roberts added.
Roberts launched the extracurricular program, open to seventh- and eighth-grade students, eight years ago, shortly after beginning her teaching career. The paper is her way of carrying on her love journalism.
“Journalism is a great job when you’re in your 20s and don’t have a family,” Roberts said. “Once you start having kids, it gets harder because you have to follow a story and stay out late to try and get to your sources.”
“Passing journalism on is definitely rewarding,” Roberts said. She noted that a half a dozen of her students have gone on to study journalism in college.
The program is decidedly low budget. There isn’t money for “fancy desktop publishing programs” to lay out the pages. And the print version of the paper doesn’t have color. Yet Roberts said the fundamentals of journalism are there.
“The stories are good,” Roberts said. “That’s what matters.”
Roberts noted parents have heaped praised on the paper. Emily O’Heir, a seventh-grader and incoming co-editor, said impressing parents is nice. However, the aim isn’t acclaim or awards, but to inform.
“We want to let people what’s going on in their area,” O’Heir said.
Patel, her mom and Roberts are being flown to Washington, D.C., to accept the award at a June 3 luncheon. The Eagle Pride Publisher can be found online at saintjohnschool.com.