Wilsonville High School English teacher John Fitzgerald finds journalism to be a nice alternative to the more philosophical nature of his classes. He likes that there's a tangible product that students are expected to produce within a predetermined timeframe.
"In some cases it feels more real. We have a definite deadline and a thing that goes out that we're going to get feedback on," he said.
As evidenced by a state award he recently received, Fitzgerald has helped his students produce a product to be proud of.
The Oregon Journalism Education Association named Fitzgerald the 2020 Rookie Adviser Teacher of the Year for his work cultivating young journalists through the WHS journalism and broadcasting program.
"John has built a very strong program at Wilsonville High School; it is impressive what he and his students are doing," said JEA Oregon State Director Brian Erikse in a news release.
Fitzgerald said he tries to allow students freedom to explore what they're interested in through various mediums — whether that be writing movie reviews, commenting on a high school football game or recording a podcast about whatever is on their mind.
"I'm super involved, but I try to make it produced by kids," Fitzgerald said. "Whether it's a social media post or an article, I will suggest things and review stuff, but it's supposed to be student-run."
Overall, Wilsonville Broadcast Network (WBN), the WHS media cohort, produces a newspaper every quarter and posts weekly stories online — where it covers topics ranging from art to AP testing along with opinion pieces. WBN also broadcasts and provides radio color for WHS athletic contests. Fitzgerald said a handful of current seniors are interested in pursuing journalism in college and some former students already have earned impressive gigs at the collegiate level. But he believes learning journalism skills can be helpful in a variety of fields.
"I think the communication skills — the idea of thinking about who your audience is and then crafting a message in that direction — is good. That's a thing you can use in almost anything," he said.
Fitzgerald said students nominated him for the OJEA award without his knowledge and that he was "floored" when he heard the news. He also enjoyed reading the letters the students wrote about him in support of his nomination.
"That was neat. It was nice to hear nice things about yourself, but I think the program was successful because they were enjoying it, figuring out ways to tell stories and had the freedom to handle their time," Fitzgerald said.
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