Presidential endorsements offer the best kind of learning for students

Floyd Central journalists engage in Election 2016

One of the many blessings of teaching high school journalism is that student journalists develop and practice essential skills that prepare them for the real world and teach them how to preserve and protect our democracy.

This year’s contentious presidential election has provided Floyd Central High School journalists the chance to do just that on their opinion pages in the form of a presidential endorsement.

This morning in their fourth issue of the year, members of the Floyd Central Bagpiper staff endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Now, I’m sure that decision will be met with a variety of reactions from readers. If this election has taught us anything, it’s that Americans have deeply-held opinions about Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

But, it’s also revealed that far too many voters on all sides of the political aisle have fundamental misunderstandings about the role of journalists and media in a democratic society.

As an educator and a journalism educator, I think it is important that those who question the decision to endorse set aside their partisan feelings toward specific candidates and their biases about the media, because the process of endorsing a candidate is one of the best learning activities for any high school student.

Candidate endorsements in the media are an extension of our democracy and offer opportunities for teen journalists to experience the First Amendment and civic journalism in action.

First, some background on how the Bagpiper editorial board arrived at its decision —

The board is comprised of the editor-in-chief, managing editor, graphics editor, photo editor, and editors from each section. This group of journalists, led and managed by the editor-in-chief, meets monthly to discuss and form a consensus opinion for the Bagpiper editorial, usually connected to a news story elsewhere in each issue.

This month the editorial board met twice. As their adviser, their editorial opinion is not mine — I do not attend most meetings other than as their adviser, and this month I attended none.

Let’s be clear — the editorial is the consensus opinion of the student leaders based on their reporting, research, and discussion.

As their adviser, I offered some guidance as they debated candidates. My suggestions included:

  • I didn’t care who they endorsed, as long as they came to a consensus and researched each candidate;
  • I suggested also publishing additional columns on unendorsed candidates to offer a variety of perspectives, and they did;
  • I encouraged an online opinion poll on the Bagpiper website at published several days prior to the release of the editorial to give readers a chance to vote and become involved in the process;
  • I reminded my students they could encourage reader feedback in the form of letters to the editor to encourage discourse and alternate opinions from readers.

From there, the editorial board met and came to a consensus decision to endorse Clinton.

My editor-in-chief wrote multiple drafts of the editorial, checking with his peers on the board regularly throughout the process to ensure he captured their collective opinion accurately. Special attention was given to ensure each editor agreed with the editorial stance; in fact, each editorial board member literally signed off on the final draft.

The result?

Three days (so far) of Floyd Central students and readers visiting our website to vote, register their opinion, and even discuss their views in the comment section. Civic discourse and involvement at its best.

Just as importantly, though, have been the debates, discussions, and compromises that have resulted from high school journalists who care enough about the democratic process to take a stand and offer leadership.

This is what real learning looks like in a democracy founded on differing views and dissent. We must remember this, especially in our most challenging times.

Because that’s what opinion pages in high school newspapers are for — to offer perspectives and encourage discussion. To give students a chance to lead. To research and compromise. To learn how to support and defend their opinions. To learn how to take a stand. To encourage discussion and real debate. To take ownership of their learning and pride in their publications.

As my students were working on this issue, I showed them a story about a Colorado Springs community in an uproar because a local high school newspaper endorsed Clinton. Some in the Colorado Springs community were outraged that high school students would actually — gasp! — use their critical thinking skills to research and then form and publish an opinion piece designed to create some discussion around who the next leader of our nation should be.

Those who condemn such outstanding learning opportunities for high school students should be ashamed. They seek not to educate, but to stifle discourse, critical thinking, and learning.

They’re not interested in learning. They’re interested in control.

Real schools offer the chance for their students to discuss, debate, lead, produce, and make decisions.

Real schools grant the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights.

I’m proud that Floyd Central High School has always been one of those schools.

And in the coming days, as we inch (thankfully) toward the end of this seemingly endless election cycle, I’m sure members of the Bagpiper staff will hear a variety of opinions on their editorial, columns, and election coverage.

I’m sure, too, that some of these reactions will be positive, and others negative. That’s part of the learning process, too. The same First Amendment that protects their right to editorialize also protects those who disagree.

I’m hopeful, though, that regardless of the feedback they receive that it is as insightful as the opinion pieces they published today.

Because we don’t have to agree.

But this election reminds us, too, of the effects of uncivil discourse and hateful rhetoric on our democracy.

This is why I’m so very proud of the Floyd Central Bagpiper staff today. They’ve taken a stand. They’ve offered different perspectives. They’ve encouraged discussion and debate over difficult, complex issues.

They’ve practiced good journalism.

They’ve proven they’re good stewards of our democracy.

And this kind of valuable learning would have taken place regardless of who they chose to endorse.


Reflections on Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier 25 years later

by Jim Lang

Time flies when you’re a journalism nerd.

I’ve always proudly described myself as a “journalism nerd.” I’ve been involved in scholastic journalism since I was in high school and was a member of The Hyphen newspaper staff at Jeffersonville High School. I guess I have never completely grown up, because 25 years later, I am still hanging out every day in a high school publication room. This time, though, it’s my students at Floyd Central High School writing the stories, designing the pages, and making a difference.

It was 25 years ago today that the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 to permit administrative censorship in some situations in the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case. I was just beginning the second semester of my senior year in high school, and I remember being so shocked that anyone could view censorship as a good idea.

It was especially bizarre for our newspaper staff because The Hyphen was never censored or prior reviewed by our principal at Jeff High, even after the Hazelwood ruling. Truthfully, I don’t believe we ever thought of ourselves as high school journalists. We were taught and treated as professionals by our adviser, Tony Willis, and as a result, that’s how we treated each other and our newspaper. We held ourselves to the highest standards and treated each other and our readers with respect. We took pride in our work and our newspaper because it was ours. No administrator had to look over our pages, check our sources, circle errors with a red pen, question our story selection, or solve our problems…we did that ourselves each day with Mr. Willis’s  guidance and support because we believed in what we were doing and loved doing it. High school journalism at Jeff High remains the most significant learning experience of my life because of his instruction and the freedom and trust we had as journalists.

Today I view this world of scholastic journalism through an entirely different lens. Now I am the adviser instead of the journalist. However, the lessons I learned at Jeff High remain with me 25 years later as a teacher in my own classroom at Floyd Central. My students have written about teenage drug use and alcoholism, depression, homelessness, controversial school closings, budget cuts, test scores, outsourcing of custodians, religion, politics, and hate crimes. Name the topic and they probably have covered it. In two weeks they’re publishing a special section examining school security, shootings, and violence. And in every instance, they have learned at the highest level possible because they have been given the freedom and trust to do so.

I have worked with four different principals at Floyd Central in my 17 years. I am proud to say that my students and I have never been censored; their newspaper, The Bagpiper, has never been under prior review. As a result, my students have the opportunity to take full ownership of their learning in a way that allows them to serve their readers, take pride in their publication, and work as professionals. Additionally, I have been given the freedom as their adviser to implement many of the lessons I learned as a student journalist so many years ago at Jeff High. Sometimes life truly does come full circle.

Twenty five years zoomed by in the blink of an eye. This journalism nerd feels so fortunate and honored to have worked with so many people who have valued real learning over control and administrative censorship.

Bagpiper named Newspaper of the Year; Bartizan named Yearbook of the Year

Floyd Central Bagpiper and Bartizan journalists attended the annual press convention of the Southeastern Indiana Student Press Association (SISPA) at Indiana University Southeast on Friday, Oct. 29.

The Bagpiper was named Newspaper of the Year for the seventh consecutive year based on work published last school year and this fall. In addition, the 2010 Bartizan yearbook was named Yearbook of the Year at the conference for the second consecutive year. Individual journalists from both staffs were also honored at the convention for their published work.

Congratulations for both staffs for their continued success.

Jensen named IHSPA Administrator of the Year

Floyd Central journalists weren’t the only Highlanders honors at last week’s IHSPA state journalism convention at Franklin College on Oct. 21-22. FC principal Louie Jensen was officially named the IHSPA Indiana Administrator of the Year.

Jensen was honored for his consistent support of scholastic journalism and press freedoms, as well as his continual support for the Bagpiper and Bartizan staffs at Floyd Central. He will officially be presented with the award at the IHSPA First Amendment Symposium at the Indiana State House in Indianapolis on Wednesday, March 2.

Floyd Central is the only Indiana school to have two administrators honored by the IHSPA, as former principal John Marsh also received the award in 2002. Additionally, former New Albany High School principal Steve Sipes also received the award, making the New Albany-Floyd County School Corporation the only corporation in Indiana to have more than one administrator honored by the IHSPA.

We should all be proud that the NA-FC schools and administrators continue to support student press freedoms without administrative prior review and censorship.

Bagpiper named Hoosier Star newspaper

The 2009-10 Bagpiper was named a Hoosier Star newspaper at the annual convention of the Indiana High School Press Association at Franklin College on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010. The Hoosier Star award is Indiana’s highest honor for high school publications; this marks the first time The Bagpiper has earned the state’s highest honor.

Congratulations to all FC Bagpiper staff members for achieving this impressive honor!

Bagpiper staff members use website to expand readership

The Bagpiper staff published the third issue of the FC student newspaper on Friday, Sept. 24 during second period and spent much of the day promoting content for the Bagpiper web publication.

Readers responded, as Bagpiper Online had 317 hits on Friday, Sept. 24 (the goal was 200), and 108 more hits on Saturday, Sept. 25. Perhaps most impressive is that readers are now commenting on content, especially opinion columns.

Great job to FC journalists, who take the time to publish quality work in print and online. And this again demonstrates the need for schools to support web publications and on-line journalism. We’re fortunate to work at a school and in a corporation that supports our journalism students so much.

Check out our student journalists’ work for yourself at

FC journalists excel during Week 2 of HSJI

Once again, FC student journalists spent five days in the hot Bloomington weather enhancing their skills and their publications at the High School Journalism Institute at Indiana University. And once again, they learned a great deal while excelling.

Students attending Week 2 of HSJI from July 11-15 include seniors Emily Brewer, Kat Brewer, Chelsey Carr, Laura Hubrich, Carmen Huff, Abigail Kost, Amanda Millea, and Avery Walts; juniors Brittani Clerici and Garrett Receveur; and sophomore Lauren McNeeley.

The FC Yearbook Team of Chelsey Carr, Laura Hubrich, Carmen Huff, Abigail Kost, and Lauren McNeeley won 2nd place in Outstanding Portfolio.

Carmen Huff won her lab award for the second consecutive week. In addition, Kat Brewer won the Instructor’s Choice Award in photojournalism, and Brittani Clerici won the Class Choice Award in photojournalism.

Senior Kathryn Brewer is awarded the $500 David Adams Memorial Scholarship at the High School Journalism Institute in July. Photo by Jay Seawell/

Finally, Chelsey Carr, Carmen Huff, and Avery Walts were awarded scholarships for their work and attitude during the week. In addition, Kat Brewer won the $500 David Adams Scholarship for her outstanding photojournalism work, effort, and participation during the week.

These FC journalists demonstrated great dedication and commitment in representing the Bagpiper and Bartizan staffs at HSJI. Congratulations to them for another outstanding week.

FC journalists excel during first week of HSJI

Seniors Carmen Huff and Jon Ferguson, co-editors-in-chief of The Bagpiper, participate in a lab discussion at the Indiana University High School Journalism Institute in July. Photo by Jay Seawell/

FC student journalists attended and excelled at the first week of the High School Journalism Institute at Indiana University in July. The following students attended classes in newspaper, yearbook, and photography: seniors Regan Bartley, Chelsey Carr,  Jon Ferguson, Ciera Geltmaker, Carmen Huff, and Lindsey Payton; and juniors Ty Elliott, Darian Eswine, Gwen Galeza, and Jill Moore.

Chelsey Carr and Jon Ferguson won scholarships to Indiana University. In addition, Darian Eswine, Carmen Huff, and Lindsey Payton were honored with lab awards.

Congratulations to these student journalists. Obviously, we’re off to a great start.