Journalism as Tolerance Tool

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At the end of each year, I marvel as my students’ excitement grows around the receiving, reading and signing of yearbooks. It’s a long-standing tradition of many students around the country. Although yearbook staffers work diligently on the attention-grabbing story lines, sports action shots and witty captions, the most sought-after component of the book is the index. Students flip straight to it to see where, and how many times, they are featured.

That means teachers who facilitate yearbooks and other school journalism projects have a responsibility to accurately represent the diversity in our schools and to feature and report on every student. In essence, my yearbook and newspaper staffs “control" the perception of the school year, activities and students. We are historians.

Each school year will be forever remembered in the print products we produce. When members of the class of 2014 pull out their senior yearbook, I want it to be a true reminder of their diverse school experience. I want it to document our school’s progress toward tolerance. We want to see the athletes, scholars and artists. We must also reflect the faces, beliefs and interests of the student body as a whole.

That’s an important and crucial role. In order to do it effectively, we have to have several things in place.

First, journalism advisors must work to recruit a diverse staff that includes students of various ages, genders and ethnicities. I have found that many activities, groups of people and school functions are divided along these characteristics. Having a diverse pool of writers will ensure that we are aware of more activities and make the likelihood of inclusion greater.

Second, students may not always see the big picture, so advisors have to create activities and expectations. Follow-up is important. For example, after several pages have been created and submitted for printing, I cross-check our entire student roster to determine if anyone has been left out. I then make follow-up assignments based on any gaps. We explore friendship circles and interest groups. It is tons of work, but my student staff learns that everybody matters.

Finally, advisors should go above and beyond to cover events that promote tolerance and to help staff get excited about them. Although we might not feature every student's response, staffers should be assigned to interview several students about these events.

Next year, we will include Mix It Up at Lunch Day, Hispanic Heritage Month activities, Project Rainbow club, Black History Month presentations, pledges to stop domestic abuse, the campaign to stop using the r-word, and efforts to say something if you see bullying. It's about generating press and documentation. 

We’re off to a great start, but it’s an ever-evolving process. Each year, we have the opportunity to explore and expand new ways to reflect our school. That reflection in yearbooks and newspapers is the key to building better school environments.

George is a high school teacher in South Carolina. She earned a degree in Spanish and English education from the University of Georgia.