Many students come to Fairhill with ghosts from their past. They are troubled by self-doubt and anxiety, but then they find their place, their nitch. The Journalism department is a place that has given many kids their place. With some it has given them a voice. With some it has given them a place to be, when they might have stayed home instead. It’s a safe haven that forces many into unchartered territory.
The current editor of both The Fairhill Talon and SOAR, the school yearbook, Park Downing, said, “Before Fairhill I was a nobody, just a shadow with no personality. Until I came to Fairhill and got a chance to start over. From that day on I made a decision not to be that shadow but to be unique. So now no matter what gets in my way and tries to change me, it will fail, because it is impossible to stop me from being me.”
Downing found himself in the newspaper class as a freshman. He had not anticipated the class, yet the staff brought him in and made him part of the team. They utilized his talents, and Park discovered he not only could take good pictures, he loved shooting pictures. He moved through the ranks as the Photo/graphic editor, and now works to bring new staff members into the fold both in the newspaper and the yearbook. He has a unique “follow me” leadership style.
The department began as a vision of Mrs. Melinda Cameron, Head of Upper School. She wanted a place where students could bring their voice and talents together. The department now consists of classes in newspaper, yearbook and this year a photography class. The classes teach the basic tenets and ethics of journalism, such as objective reporting, journalistic ethics, photography and graphic design. They learn design and layout using the industry standard Adobe software.
While the yearbook has published numerous award winning books, 2014-2015 marked the year for the first totally student run yearbook. It won the 2015 National Program of Excellence award for increasing the coverage of students in the yearbook. The newspaper class launched its first edition in May of 2010 and now publishes four times a year. In 2012 The Fairhill Talon received fourth in the TAPPS State Competition.
Fairhill School supports the program in many ways. One of the most impactful decisions given happened during the inception of the newspaper class. Jane Sego, former Executive Director, agreed to give students their first amendment rights. As a private school students are not covered by this freedom as they would be in a public school setting. Administration trusted our students. This was challenged the first year, but Fairhill students love their school. The Fairhill Talon handbook states the staff will build up the community not tear it down. In a difficult time, the newspaper staff decided to write a healing piece for a hurting community of students.
Another aspect of the department is the Sickler Award. This award is named for a former journalism student who passed away in 2013 following graduation. Stuart Sickler had been such an integral part of the newspaper staff for three years. He was the go to guy for anything. It didn’t matter. He would volunteer even when others wouldn’t. Stuart often came in during study hall, if a deadline loomed, to see if there was anything needed completion. He stayed after school and came in before school. The staff knew they could always count on him no matter what.
The Sickler Award, honors his memory to The Fairhill Talon. So thanks to his family this is now an annual reality. Each year a deserving student, who exemplifies the commitment and dedication to service that Stuart demonstrated, will receive the award. Winners include Basha Rubin, 2014 graduate, and Park Downing, current junior. The family also generously donates to the class each year.
In addition last year the department received a gift, in honor of Marea Downey, for new photography equipment, which enabled the purchase of 12 Nikon D3300 cameras. In the past photography had been a difficult area. The cameras students used were not able to meet the demands of sports’ games and evening dances. Yet, this year student’s photography has soared capturing those difficult scenes with ease.
As the program has grown, students have gained a confidence level that surpassed my initial idea. While interviewing is not an easy skill, many of the students have learned how to effectively procure information, which is not something that comes easily to the students.
Students, who used to fall back within the crowd, are now close to the action albeit behind a camera, but they are involved in their school. Probably the most exciting outcome to me is that they are excited to be at school events and at times even fight over who will be photographing a particular event. Consequently, at events there will always be a plethora of photographers trying to catch that picture, which demonstrates the best within the Fairhill community.
Contributed by Karen Boozer, Journalism Teacher and Yearbook Sponsor, Fairhill School