The Town Crier, a newspaper published by students at Paul Revere Charter Middle School, won its second Pacemaker Award, a national award for excellence in journalism and the highest honor given by the National Scholastic Press Association.
The affiliated charter was the only middle school among the 26 winners selected from 275 middle and high school publications nationwide vying for the honor. Revere has been a finalist for the award each year since 2012. Winners for 2016-17 were recently announced at a conference in Dallas.
“I am speechless,” Revere Principal Thomas Iannucci said. “This is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our journalism program and our incredible students who continuously strive for excellence. This is outstanding, and the recognition is well-deserved.”
The Town Crier is published five times each year by a core team of 22 students under the guidance of English and Journalism teacher Eric Wechsler.
“It’s all about these students,” said Wechsler, who has taught at the Westside campus for 16 years. “With this group, it’s merely a matter of setting the bar high. They will do what it takes to meet that bar, and then we raise it higher.”
Student reflections on the Pacemaker win underscore their teacher’s and principal’s perspectives.
“We put a lot of work into the newspaper,” said eighth-grader Sasha Schoettler. “Everyone on this team plays an important part, and then we work as a team to bring it together. It is really great to get recognition for that.”
Classmate Maddie Glenn said she felt tremendous satisfaction when the awards were announced.
“There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t see,” she said. “It’s really great to get credit for all of the work we do to make this newspaper happen.”
The Crier team follows a model used by most professional newsrooms, with different students assigned to beats including news, features, sports and entertainment. Teams of students share responsibilities for reporting and writing stories, taking photos and designing the publication.
Along with students on the school’s yearbook team – also under Wechsler’s guidance – the Crier’s staff works with the shared goal of generating content that is visually appealing, designed to inform as well as attract readership.
“We try to find topics that resonate with students,” said eighth-grader Porter Comstock. “We are always paying attention to what students are talking about, what’s going on in pop culture and try to stay tuned in to what they are interested in. Then we let that guide us in our decision-making.”
Wechsler says that keeping in the background and letting students drive the decision-making is major part of what wins awards.
“They are teenagers, so they know best what will matter to others in their age group,” he said.
Besides winning awards, the approach has proven successful in generating student interest. Each year, over 200 students sign up to participate in the journalism program, which is over three times the number that can be accommodated. Students submit to an interview for consideration.
An important step, Wechsler says, as the program involves an incredible time commitment. His students agree.
“You really have to be willing to put in the effort to keep things moving, because there is a lot happening,” said eighth-grader Tristan Larsson. “Things move quickly here and they can change in a heartbeat, and you have to be ready.”
Sure enough, the students were hard at work, shuffling stories around and changing plans to meet shifting deadlines in the wake of the school’s two-day closure due to wildfires.
“We are already doing stories on the fires,” Glenn said. “And, we had plans to cover music assemblies that were supposed to take place already but have been rescheduled. Students are changing their schedules to accommodate so we can make sure everything is fresh, relevant and nothing falls through the cracks.”
It is apparent walking into the “newsroom” how quickly and diligently the students work to meet their deadlines, as the atmosphere is abuzz with energy, minds at work and creative juices flowing.
It is an atmosphere that some of the students say they relish to the point that they are considering careers in journalism or other deadline-driven fields.
“I might be interested in a career in journalism,” Schoettler said as she headed to her next class. “It’s a lot of stress, but that works well for me because I don’t get too freaked out from the stress. Plus, I think it’s something that would keep me interested, because you are focused on something new every day.”
Wechsler and Iannucci emphasized that while they don’t expect every student in the program to become a journalist, the experience they are accumulating is solid preparation for nearly any career choice.
“Being able to meet deadlines is among the most important skills in any job,” Wechsler said. “Being able to collaborate, formulate a plan and follow the plan? That’s golden. These kids are in middle school now. In the future, there’s no telling what they’ll be able to achieve.”