This summer, after I crossed Interstate 10 and returned home after graduating from Loyola University, I showed up at the Jackson Free Press again. I had first interned at the JFP when I was still at Jackson Prep, in the early days of the JFP, when the office was in a duplex.
Back then, a teacher and some students from Murrah High asked the JFP to help them revive their newspaper, The Hoofbeat. Seeing how badly some local schools need resources and training in order to put out school papers, Donna and I came up with the idea for a Jackson-area high school press association.
We were convinced that Jackson high-schoolers desperately needed to express themselves and views through their own publications, in a time when much academic emphasis had turned to teaching to tests.
Turns out, we were right: A study produced by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation (NAAF) showed that students who work on their high school newspapers have better overall success in life after high school. They are better communicators, have a stronger ability to adapt to different situations and have a broader, more informed view of the world around them. (See naafoundation.org.)
We were busy starting a paper, though, and never made it happen.
But when I walked into Donna's office this June, she looked at me as if I'd never left and started motivating me. "Here are some story ideas," she said. "And let's finally start the Jackson Area High School Press Association. We can call it 'JAHSPA."
I thought, "Oh no, here we go."
Donna had already talked to the Mass Communications Department at Jackson State (where she is on the advisory board). The department wanted to help put together the group, to help provide training and resources, to lead workshops, to help come up with a template Web site for local schools to use if they can't afford a print paperor even if they can. I agreed to start networking with national experts and looking for "best practices" ideas for setting up such a group, and to help find teachers and students from local schools (public and private) to get involved.
So for the last month, the JFP internsI'm now an Intern Emeritus, it seemsand I have put in calls to area high schools to inform them about JAHSPA. In my daily calls, I was patched through to my math teacher at Jackson Prep, my alma mater. When I told her about JAHSPA, she said, "You are going to change the world." She got me thinking that maybe we can change the world with this project. When you are a high school student, high school is your world. You don't have a choice. Your world is fixed.
Alma mater in Latin means "nourishing mother." High school is a place where young people should draw nourishment. Through thinking about each other and questioning their environments, they are provided a real foundation from which to move through this ever-changing world.
Communication is vital. I know what I'm talking about; I'm a professional student. I've been in college for the last four years of my life and school for the last 17 years. My student years stack up higher than the minimum experience for any job in the classifieds.
I signed on now to help with JAHSPA because while I was studying the philosophy of God, tension in the short story, and how to accurately drink a black and tan in a downtown New Orleans pub, Donna Ladd was reading books on leadership and getting e-mails from teachers and students looking for help. Her new motto is, "Motivate and delegate."
When I was her intern four years ago, most of what she asked me to do seemed impossible to me whether it was feeling uncomfortable in an environment I wasn't used to, talking to people I was scared of or revered, or sitting in the City Council's chambers reporting on the latest motion.
But I did it. And I learned.
Back then, I was editor of my high-school newspaper, and I told Donna I wished I had someone or some group to turn to for guidance. I didn't have the tools I needed to put out a paper that I didn't have to stay up all night to string together, or even a paper that represented our students in a clear and professional way. I didn't own an AP Stylebook. We were lucky if our margins matched.
I was fortunate because my high school had the resources available to publish a newspaper with help from advertisers. But I didn't have the training to put out a sophisticated and well-informed product.
This summer, I've discovered that Jackson's high-school newspapers are in various stages from nonexistent to well established. JAHSPA's mission is to bring journalism educators on high school and college levels together with professionals and students to share resources and ideas to help all of our schools produce quality newspapers or Web sites.
JAHSPA's new Web site (coming soon) will feature resources, schedules and information about local journalism events. Eventually, we plan to feature the best high-school stories of the week, and set up an awards program. We want this organization to address the needs and concerns of high school journalism advisers and students and work with them to get those needs metand to connect them for resource and idea sharing.
What if we can change the world? What if we can make the world easier for our students to navigate? JAHSPA can at least give teachers and students a good place to start, a foundation and even some nourishment.
The students will do it themselves, and they will learn. In the end, they will have printed words that prove they have the power to change their own worlds. That knowledge can never be taken from them.
E-mail Jessica Kinnison at [e-mail missing], or call her at 601-937-1577 for more info or to get involved.