Thursday, February 23, 2006
The deadline is nigh. Bodies rush through the room. Computer keyboards quiver as hurried fingers punch in last-minute corrections to stories. And then, with only a few precious minutes left, a logjam of people gather around the printer.
It stopped printing.
“What’s going on?” one girl asks out loud, her voice riddled with panic. “Why’d it stop?”
You can cut the stress in the room with a butter knife. Then someone quickly discovers the problem. The printer needs some paper. Everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief.
No, this isn’t a scene from deadline day at the Monterey County Weekly.
This was deadline day last week for the staff of the Horizon, Seaside High School’s monthly newspaper. After two years of not being published, the Horizon was re-launched in December with the help of 22 students—all of them juniors and seniors—and their journalism teacher, Susanne Sprague.
The students meet every school day at 9am for journalism class. They’re now working on the third issue of the Horizon, due out in March.
“The biggest goal of the newspaper is to improve their writing skills,” Sprague says. “But it’s also to deliver a paper that’s important to students.”
With only two issues under their belt, the Horizon staff has already made a splash on campus.
In the December issue, staff writers Arishma Singh and Maryllu Javier penned a short but punchy article exposing the fact that the high school didn’t have a nurse, registrar or data processor, and that their school secretary had left.
“Senior college applications were due on Nov. 30 and [students] couldn’t get a hold of their transcripts,” the article states. “The school needs to manage these problems.”
Since that article was published, Sprague says the school’s administration has hired more staff to fill vacancies in the front office.
In another piece also co-written by Singh, 17, the newspaper attempted to find out what had happened to a teacher who suddenly disappeared and left all her students with incomplete grades. The school principal, Sheila Keifetz, did not respond to repeated Horizon requests for an interview—a fact duly noted in the article.
And while the principal still hasn’t given an explanation or commented on the article, others have.
“We had a lot of good reactions to that story,” says Singh.
Another article published by the Horizon has even prompted a response from officials at Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. Written by Terry Sharpe, the article sheds light on hazing practices at Seaside High School, including one organized by Seaside High’s varsity football team last fall.
“The MPUSD School Board read the entire first issue and red-flagged that article,” Sprague says. “They are preparing a sort of rebuttal to it that will appear in the next issue. They’re basically going to say that they’re dealing with the problem.”
Leading the young Horizon staff is Michelle Ferrari, 17, a senior. She says she got the editor-in-chief slot only because nobody else wanted it.
“I was the only one who volunteered,” Ferrari says. “But being editor is a lot harder than what I expected. I thought it’d be just telling people what to do. But instead you have to know every single thing that everyone’s doing.”
Deadline days are particularly rough, Ferrari explains, because everyone rushes to her with their articles at the last possible minute.
Besides procrastination, misspellings and typos continue to be challenges, Sprague says.
“We’re still finding a lot of them,” says Sprague, who is teaching journalism for the first time. “But they’re getting better at it.”
A few misspellings, however, aren’t making the students shy away from big issues, or from being a little edgy.
Marissa Guzman, 16, is now working on an article that will examine the potential impacts of having a new high school open in Marina in the fall.
“That’s going to affect us a lot here,” says Guzman, who is planning to interview MPUSD Superintendent John Lamb for her story. “Some teachers are afraid that [Seaside High] will lose a lot of students, and maybe even their jobs.”
Mitchell Uncangco, 16, is one of the Horizon’s graphic designers and writers. He says he joined the paper to improve his skills and his writing. He also admits that the high point of being with the newspaper came in December when he held the re-launch issue in his hands.
“It was great,” Uncangco says. “I felt so good. I remember telling all my friends, ‘Yeah, I designed this page.’”