Pioneer looks to start newspaper

  • Starting this fall, PVRS English teacher Matthew Despres will teach a journalism elective open to juniors and seniors. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Matthew Despres’ classroom wall is covered in school newspapers from his days teaching journalism at Revere High School. This fall, he started teaching a journalism elective at Pioneer. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/11/2016 11:11:34 PM

NORTHFIELD — When Matthew Despres was in high school, writing for his school newspaper was how he discovered his passion for journalism. Now, as an English teacher at Pioneer Valley Regional School, he wants to ensure his students have the same opportunity.

For the first time this fall, Pioneer is offering a journalism elective that will not only teach students the fundamentals of journalism, but allow them to produce a student newspaper.

Despres, who will teach the class, proposed the idea to new Pioneer Principal Jean Bacon.

“The idea to make a push for journalism was well-received,” he said. “Principal Bacon was, right off the bat, saying ‘Journalism is important. Why don’t we have a school newspaper?’”

Though Despres said Pioneer publishes the Panther Press, a literary journal, it did not have a student newspaper. He already had experience implementing a journalism program and newspaper at Revere High School, where he worked for six years.

Despres believes having a student newspaper will provide students with a better understanding of current events in their towns and allow them to “feel like they’ve had a significant voice in creating something new” at the school.

The class, which is open to juniors and seniors, has four students in its inaugural semester.

“Even though the initial cohort is small, they’ve already thought a lot about what journalism means to them,” Despres said. “They’re in it for the right reasons.”

Three of the students expressed interest in journalism as a career, Despres said, including senior Julia Duprey, who is interested in pursuing radio journalism.

“I was very lucky that this (class) started in my senior year,” Duprey said. She believes the class will give her a good basis of skills to point her in the direction of her dream career.

Despres said he and the students will discuss journalism history, ethics, law, media criticism, what it looks like to consume news, interviewing skills, writing on deadline and different styles of writing.

“(Even) if they never take another class, they’ll be thoughtful news consumers,” Despres said.

As for developing the paper, many of the details are still in the works, Despres said. He wants students to pick the name of the newspaper themselves, and hopes that grades seven to 10 can get involved too as an extracurricular activity.

Despres invites not just writers, but photographers and designers to get involved. He is also considering giving students the option to sell ads to have the full functionality of a newspaper.

Despres believes the paper will be produced using Adobe InDesign, and wants the publication to have an online presence.

Pioneer offers Chromebooks, video cameras and editing software that students could use to produce video. Despres intends to apply for a Foundation for Excellence in Education grant and use to gain more materials like cameras and audio recorders.

Though the class is small, Despres said teaching the course is worthwhile to give students who are interested in being journalists a chance to sample their potential career choice.

Sixteen-year-old Christina Cunningham said she is taking the class because she’s been interested in journalism as a career since she was in the seventh grade, and hopes the course will help her focus her goals after high school.

“When journalism was offered as a class this year, I was ecstatic,” Cunningham said. “I could finally explore the world of journalism more, and see exactly what my future as a journalist would be like.”

Cunningham added that she hopes the class will help her discover the type of journalism that will be the best fit for her, while refining her interpretation of what journalism is.


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