The Franklin: what I learned from leading a high school student newspaper

The stairway of the Franklin Learning Center that I took to Mr. Sedwin's classroom each week.

You’re supposed to learn from teaching, or something like that.

I suppose with that knowledge in hand, I knew I’d learn something when, two years ago, I first walked into the Franklin Learning Center, a magnet high school in the Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia.

I was there to help launch a student newspaper. I, too, was a student, writing for The Temple News, the college newspaper of Temple University.

Sometimes we’d get as many as 10 students to turn out, but there was a faithful three or four who kept coming out.

In fall 2006, I first went out to FLC and we had enough success that I was asked to speak on a panel at the national Journalism Education Association national conference held in Center City in November 2007. I stuck with it until April 2008, as we watched some of those more faithful students get after-school jobs and peter out. While I started on my own as a pilot, my work there was eventually rolled into a growing Prime Movers program.

It wasn’t an eternity, but nearly two full school years working on a school newspaper was something. I learned plenty that was relevant.

  • Sometimes, bigger goals are easier than small ones — We struggled a lot with getting the deadlines met, a product put out, an audience built and sustainability instituted. In fact, the revived Franklin mostly died as I was transitioning out because of my graduation. But I couldn’t help but think of the handful of kids with whom I had contact and think about the lessons they learned, the directions they took and the interest many developed. Those were bigger successes, I felt.
  • Most students still valued a print product — We didn’t have the cash for this yet, and they were still interested in seeing their byline anywhere, including online, but print still had this value to most.
  • Writing is a bigger draw than journalism — Covering a community in anyway wasn’t nearly as interesting to most of our students as writing of any kind. Poetry, by example, was one of the most popular requests to contribute. We also had a lot of requests to be columnists — a request I pushed back on, actually.
  • Get a group of kids together and you’d be surprised about different interests — Of our core group of five, we had a better leader, someone more interested in managing the web, someone who wanted to offer design and art, someone who wanted to write poetry and someone who wanted to report.
  • Having a teacher-adviser who the students like is instrumental — I was blessed to be working with Jeff Sedwin, an older, more established teacher whom most students seemed to like, respect and trust. …While mostly easy going, he wasn’t afraid to come down on kids. He was a great fit.
  • A little energy and passion goes a long way –– It is so obvious if you actually enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re having fun and are comfortable and know what you’re talking about, it’ll come through.
  • Don’t keep anyone there at will –– He or she will infect the group.