SLHS Spotlight covers the news

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Teacher, students cast Spotlight on all the SLHS news

by Ricki Stein, Community Engagement Coordinator

Not everyone who becomes a journalist intends to do so. But a love of writing, and a nose for news, blend for students as they start asking questions of interesting people. SLHS junior Saskia Van't Hof (Editor-in-Chief) and senior Kennah Salvo (features editor) rather haphazardly selected the journalism class as an elective three years ago, but discovered a passion for storytelling. Mrs. Marlo Spritzer, English and journalism teacher, has always loved writing and developed an appreciation for journalism when she helped her grandfather type his letters to the editor. 

The three recently worked from home over the internet with other student editors to publish online content and finish the last print edition of the 2019-2020 school year, altered by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“I find it very fulfilling to be a part of something bigger than myself, even just something as small as a high school news publication,” Kennah said. “I just needed an extra course [when I moved into the district in my sophomore year]. I didn’t know that taking the class would mean writing for the newspaper at the time; I figured it would be a study hall or something similarly boring and tedious, but it wasn’t.”

Saskia said she signed up to take journalism in eighth grade. “To be completely honest, I didn’t put much thought behind it. I needed another class and I thought it seemed like the most interesting elective out of the few we could choose. By the first article, I already knew how much I was thankful for this random decision because it led me to something I’m really passionate about.”

Mrs. Spritzer went to Stroudsburg High School (class of 1987), where she occasionally wrote letters to the editor. She was a member of the yearbook staff her senior year. “My grandfather used to write a lot of letters to the editor of our local newspaper, usually about political issues, and he used to ask me to type them up for him, so I have him to thank for getting me interested in social and national and global issues, and understanding the voice we all have through the freedom of the press,” she said. 

She went on to earn a B.S. in Secondary Education from Temple University (1997), with a concentration in English and Communication. She also holds a Master’s Equivalency in Education, awarded by the PA Department of Education after completing graduate work at West Chester University. Now in her 23rd year of teaching overall, she has advised the Spotlight since 2011, for nine of her 12 years in Southern Lehigh. She also teaches English 10 and Honors English 12, and coaches Color Guard. 

“The journalism program is co-curricular, meaning there is a class as well as an extra-curricular component,” she explained. “Most students who are heavily involved are in the class, but there are a few students who contribute articles occasionally.”

This year’s staff includes 13 students, including six editors. Most years, students who want to become editors complete an application, and go through an interview process with Mrs. Spritzer. 

“However, over the last two years we graduated so many editors, that when school started this year, I surprised the six students in the journalism class that they would all need to become editors!”

The Spotlight, available at https://slspotlight.com/, features a mix of school, district, national and international news. Reporters add local color to the national and international stories to make them relevant to SLHS readers. Some reporters dig in on investigative style stories when controversial topics peak their interest. And opinion columns cover a wide variety of topics. 

Saskia said, “I really like the process of interviewing people and building a story from it. It feels like I’m making my own puzzle pieces to fill the missing ones. It’s really fun to be able to talk to different people at my school that I normally wouldn’t and see how differently students respond to certain topics. I also love the community we have within the staff. This year we are really really small, so I feel like we’ve built a slightly dysfunctional but always entertaining family.”

The staff publishes online and in print throughout the year, usually striving to publish six print issues each school year. After the articles are written, editors use Adobe InDesign to format the print layout so that “it is visually and aesthetically pleasing and so that everything flows well,” said Kennah. 

Mrs. Spritzer emails the newspaper pages to School Paper Express in upstate New York, which prints on traditional newsprint paper. When the box of papers arrives at school, Spotlight staff members deliver them to classrooms. Mrs. Spritzer uploads the print version to ISSUU, which provides a link so that people can flip through the pages and read them. You can access those through the archives link on the website (https://slspotlight.com/archives/). 

“It is a way for us to upload PDF copies of our print issues so that anyone can read them even if they don’t have access to a hard copy,” said Mrs. Spritzer. “That’s a nice feature, since we often have content in the hard copy that we don’t publish online.”

In addition to the traditional print issues, the Spotlight has been publishing digital content online since 2012. The site is hosted by School Newspapers Online (SNO), and the students' work has occasionally been republished nationally by SNO on their “Best of SNO” website. 

Mrs. Spritzer learned about the digital platform after her first year advising the newspaper. “In 2012, I was awarded a fellowship to study in a two-week intensive program at Arizona State University with other journalism teachers from throughout the country. I learned an incredible amount of information from the best-of-the-best in the field, and it reinforced to me that in the 21st century, news is most often shared in a multimedia format. I felt it was important to teach students how to responsibly read and publish news in an online format as well as in print.” 

Mrs. Spritzer, a few editors, and administrators publicize many of the published articles on social media including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to increase awareness to readers in and beyond the community.  

When the buildings closed mid-March, the Spotlight suspended the print issue they were working on and moved to a full online format while publishing from home. After meeting online with Mrs. Spritzer, the six editors felt passionate about embracing the unique opportunity in front of them to share their voices during an unprecedented time in their education. Since then, they have published new content online every week. 

Saskia emphasized that communication “is key to putting together a newspaper completely virtually.” The six editors have had video meetings with Mrs. Spritzer once or twice a week since the end of March, and also communicate through an online platform, Trello, to manage their projects. 

The editors felt it important to put together one final “senior issue” in print, which is an annual tradition. On May 26, a copy will be given to every senior when they drop off their laptops and materials at school. A digital version will also be published on the website for those who do not have access to the physical copy. 

“I think that the newspaper is important because it is a voice that is heard by the school administration, so if something needs saying, then the newspaper is there to say it,” said Kennah. “That’s kind of the whole point of journalism in the first place.”

Added Saskia, “I think the newspaper is best when we can act as a collective voice to make change in our school. When I was a sophomore, all of the grading at the high school was based on weighted categories, and I saw a lot of students who were frustrated by it because it meant that doing homework never changed their grade. I thought a point based system would be more flexible for teachers and beneficial to students, so after I brought it up in a student advisory meeting, I decided to write an opinion article about it. It ended up being recognized and published by SNO [School Newspapers Online], but what surprised me more was that this year the school decided to give teachers the option to do a point system grading. I definitely can’t take credit for this kind of change, but it was really cool for me that I was able to make a difference in any way I could.”

Informed citizens, and perhaps sophisticated reporters in particular, pay attention to what is going on in the world. Saskia and Kennah said they read news online all day. Saskia gets her news from traditional newspapers online as well as through YouTube and podcasts. Kennah receives breaking news through Flipboard and email alerts. 

“I think it’s really important to read or consume news so that you are aware of the world and so that you can engage in intelligent discourse about what is happening,” Kennah said. 

“Being a news consumer is important to me because taking time to learn about a topic makes me feel more engaged in the world,” Saskia said. “But on top of national and global news, I think it’s really important to me to pay attention to local news because at the end of the day we are most directly affected by what is happening within our community.”

Every year, Mrs. Spritzer submits editions of the Spotlight to the Pennsylvania School Press Association (PSPA) and the National School Press Association (NSPA). Journalists critique stories and pages and offer feedback. 

“We are consistently ranked by PSPA among the top school newspapers in Pennsylvania, and in 2018, NSPA awarded us the All-American rating, which is their highest rating,” Mrs. Spritzer noted.

Some courses and activities require a heavy load of teacher/advisor feedback to students. Running the newspaper, which publishes so frequently between the print and online formats, and teaching English requires organizational talent. Before Mrs. Spritzer went to college, she developed management skills as a secretary for a small family business.

“I answered the phones, and did some scheduling and dispatching, I ran payroll and managed the accounts receivable, and I did some of the letter writing that needed to be done,” she explained. 

She began teaching after graduating from Temple University. She spent a few years in temporary positions at Allentown Business School, Easton Area School District, and Northampton Community College, where she taught GED classes and workforce development programs. She taught at Pleasant Valley High School from 2000-2003, then 2003-2008 at Kennett High School in Chester County. All of those positions helped her gain insight about the world and education. 

Kennah plans to attend Cairn University, outside Philadelphia, where she will be an English major with a Spanish minor and an add-on teaching certificate. She wants to teach Spanish and English, hopefully internationally.

“Though I enjoy writing for the newspaper, I really like doing creative writing,” Kennah admitted. “I’ve been writing little stories for as long as I could take pen to paper; it’s just what I’ve always done. There’s something astounding about knowing that I have brought something new, something no one’s ever seen before, into the world with nothing but my brain, a pen, and some paper.”

Saskia would like to continue as editor-in-chief next year and write for the newspaper in whatever college she attends. 

“I hope that writing still has a place in my life. Even if I don’t major in journalism, I know that the amount of skills I’ve learned just in the past couple years will help me in any career,” she said.  “I’ve had so much fun and felt like I’ve grown so much as a writer and editor in the past few years, so I definitely hope that I get to continue it. Right now I think I want to study international relations, so it will be very interesting to see how my background in journalism will affect my major.”

“I really like the nonfiction feature writing I get to do for the paper,” she continued. “There is something really powerful about being able to craft a story about a real person and translate their personality and life onto paper.” 

How do Spotlight members know the public is reading their stories?

“I have friends’ parents who are my biggest fans and will talk to me about what I wrote and what they thought,” Kennah said. “It’s really nice to know that your work has made people think and examine things at another angle.” 

Added Saskia, “I have a couple good friends who always give me feedback when they read an article they like. Especially when we still had school, a lot of people would come talk to me about the newspaper on publishing day, which was always exciting and really helpful. Getting your work published is one thing, but watching people react to it is a very different experience.”