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IJEA Blog: Say “Yes” to scholastic journalism!

Among the reasons for embracing high school journalism: The lessons students learn and the responsibilities they shoulder allow them to produce something far bigger than themselves, as 2014 IJOY runner-up Sarah Foster can testify from her own experience.

October 2, 2016

sarah-photoI never thought I’d be a journalist.

My smile is crooked. My voice is soft. My face is constantly flushed. These attributes seem to be anything but journalistic.

But like so many others, I didn’t have a say in what I was called to do. The smell of newsprint in the morning, still fresh with wet, hot ink from the press, swept me off my feet when I was 15 years old.

I still haven’t returned to the ground.

My high school newspaper found me at the right time. I was struggling with self-esteem issues, probably because of the braces that had been glued to my teeth for four years. Puberty is never easy, that’s for sure.

But behind my reporter’s notebook, I found a place that accepted me.

It was a place that welcomed my awkwardness. It was a place where I felt so alive and so free.

In this place, my flaws became my strengths. My soft demeanor made my sources feel comfortable. They trusted me enough to expose delicate parts of themselves.

Not only did I learn to be comfortable in my own skin, but I also became the person that I always wanted to be: Someone who isn’t afraid to stand up and do what’s right.

If it wasn’t for scholastic journalism, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As a journalism major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I can say this with confidence.

But as budget issues affect institutions across the state, scholastic journalism often finds itself under attack. Programs are cut. Advisers, teachers and professors are removed.

Suddenly, students who find their worth within the words of a powerful story are no longer able to seek their outlet of expression. The future of my major remains uncertain, and when we speak about a program so dear to my heart, it’s hard to stop emotion from clouding my vision.

I could say the usual here — that saying no to scholastic journalism is waving goodbye to reporters with proper training. I could even take it a step farther, that saying no to scholastic journalism is denying us a portion of our democratic rights.

But instead, I ask you to picture the quiet, brace-faced girl, who is probably tripping over her own feet right now. Saying no to scholastic journalism is saying no to her personal development. It’s stopping her from finding where she belongs. It’s preventing her from using her passion in a way that helps others.

Scholastic journalism is invaluable. The lessons and responsibilities allow students to produce something far bigger than themselves.

Say “Yes” to scholastic journalism, with all of your heart and all of your might.

It will be the best decision you ever make.

Sarah Foster was runner-up in the 2014 Illinois Journalist of the Year competition when she was a senior at Mattoon High School. She currently majors in journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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