By Jock Lauterer
Director
Carolina Community Media Project

Publishers have no business whining about lost youth readers if they aren’t aggressively nurturing reciprocal relationships with local middle and high school administrators, teachers and students.

It’s called “Growing your own Readers,” and I’ve long preached that such pro-active “schoolwork” leads to “Growing your own Newsroom” as well.

So it was with great satisfaction that I discovered one of my favorite community newspapers thinking way outside the school lunch box, if you will.

Ed Harper’s State Port Pilot, one of the state’s most decorated weeklies (27 ad awards and 21 news awards in this year’s NCPA competition) — and arguably the finest weekly you’ll ever see — partners each summer with Brunswick Community College’s program, “Career Ready,” linking teachers with vital local service businesses.

This summer, the celebrated South Brunswick High School English teacher Michaela Birdyshaw, honored as a “21st Century Teacher” and SBHS Teacher of the Year, spent one week in an intensive immersion internship at the Pilot.

Owner Ed Harper, who himself loves every facet of the business (including delivery!) ran “Mrs. Birdyshaw” through the gamut, from reporting, writing, production, editorial, pressroom, advertising and circulation — the whole nine yards.

The idea is to familiarize the teacher with the inner workings of this vital community institution in order for the teacher to take the new knowledge back to the high school classroom this fall.

MEET MRS. BIRDYSHAW

“What an opportunity!” Michaela told me. “I am fascinated by the media and its power and authority, yet I was curious to understand the dynamic this community paper must employ to engage its readers week after week when the click of a button on our cell phones can provide us with breaking news.”

Harper said that while the newspaper has always eagerly participated in the college’s “Career Ready” program, this year’s intern presented a unique opportunity.

“I’ve never met a teacher who was so enthusiastic about the same things that interest us as a newspaper — particularly getting newspapers into the hands of students, and showing them the continuing relevance of community news in their daily lives.”

Michaela explains, “We face the obstacle every day on how to get our students to put down their texting machines and pick up a book or a pen or a newspaper. We walk a fine line every day as we develop new and innovative ways to reach our students with material from centuries ago with ideas and technologies that we could never keep up with.

“My goal, in conjunction with the Pilot and the NIE initiative is to bring in the newspapers (both written and virtual) into my classroom in order to bring them closer to their world. My hope is to work on their writing, analytical, creative and inquisitive skills as they develop a deeper sense of current events in their own community and how they impact our lives.

“Although there are many question marks and unforeseen possibilities, the worst case scenario is that my students will sit and read a newspaper each week. What a beautiful sight!

She continues, “The purpose, from my perspective, is to immerse the teacher into a function of the community in order to immerse an understanding of the community into the classroom. In my situation, I want my kids to come out of this experience with real world issues on their minds and ink on their fingertips.”

TOTAL IMMERSION AT THE PILOT

Michaela spent her weeklong internship learning all aspects of the Pilot operation — hands on, and always pitching in to help. “She is a charismatic individual,” the editor said. “We thought, ‘If she can get US so excited about the newspaper, what can she do with students?”

Reflecting on her internship, Michaela said via e-mail: “What I learned as I proceeded through my internship is that several factors are involved in ensuring longevity for this great paper. It is not only what is printed, what pictures are presented or how many advertisements are purchased — it is about maintaining a belief in the community and a desire to bridge the gap between two schools: Old-School and New-School.

“The Pilot has found the way to blend these two schools of thought with their dedication to the written word, a strong, cohesive, and creative staff and an open mind. With their online edition, they allow the ease of information at our fingertips with the reminder of how important it is to know where we live. With more Facebook fans than any other paper of its kind in the state, the Pilot has reached a new target audience. With their webcam, they have reminded us all of the community we know and love.”

A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR ALL

Harper said the Pilot previously has given lip-service to taking the newspaper further into the classroom, but like many small-town papers had found its personnel resources limited. “But here we have a teacher (Mrs. Birdyshaw) whose enthusiasm abounds, and an equally energetic staff member (schools reporter Hilary Snow) who have worked together before, though not in a ‘newspapers in schools’ project.

“What could be better?” Harper wondered.

The editor immediately contacted Sandy Cook, who like yours truly spends part of the summer on the southeast coast. Sandy, director of the Newspapers in Education program at UNC-Chapel Hill, set up an appointment with Michaela and Hilary, and the three are working on implementing an NIE program of sorts — first in Mrs. Birdyshaw’s classroom and, all hope, throughout her school and perhaps others in the Pilot circulation area.

“It just seemed like a perfect fit,” Harper said, and the impetus clearly came from the dynamic South Brunswick High School teacher.

“We expect Sandy, Hilary and Michaela will set-up a successful NIE program locally,” Harper said, “but one thing’s for sure: Michaela Birdyshaw is going to involve newspapers in her classroom material. It is the least we can do to help her!”

My reaction to this innovative initiative: This is an awesome program; more community newspapers should follow the Pilot’s lead and aggressively and actively engage their local school system.

It’s clearly a win-win situation for all.

One Response to “Taking the Newsroom to the Classroom: Mrs. Birdyshaw and the Pilot”

  1. Zane Sacchetti

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