Students Find Their Voice to ‘Restore the Roar’

School Newspaper Gets Second Life Online

Sporting their new newspaper’s T-shirt are, from left, Morgan King, Ashley Robinette, Jill Muraski, Isabelle Luke and Karen Underwood

It’s D-day for the return of The Roar, and its student staffers are raring to go.

After a 10-year hiatus, the Northview High School student newspaper is back, albeit in digital form. And here in adviser Betsy Verwys’ classroom, staff members gather after school to plan for its debut the following day, Nov. 17. They’ll return at 7:15 a.m. ready to love-bomb students with their first marketing tool: bags of Pixy Stix.

“Put it in their hand and tell them to read The Roar,” Verwys urges them. “This is your entire job tomorrow – getting people to read The Roar.”

Two dozen students have made it their mission this fall to restore The Roar, formerly published as a print paper until being discontinued in 2006 with the retirement of longtime adviser Jim Rex. They’ve done so as an after-school journalism club, as part of a plan to launch for-credit journalism classes next fall and solidify The Roar’s revival.

Though enthusiastically embraced by Verwys, the project was student-initiated. Senior Isabelle Luke brought the idea to her last spring after noticing her school lacked a student paper.

“Hopefully having one will give other students the opportunity to be a part of something and have their voice heard,” says Isabelle, co-editor in chief along with senior Karen Underwood.

They and other staffers made their voices heard loud and clear in the stylishly presented first issue. It featured storiesranging from the high school marching band’s third-place finish in the state finals and a blood drive run by Students Against Destructive Decisions, to anti-Trump protests in downtown Grand Rapids and an analysis of how the polls got the election wrong.

“We have 12 really good stories on there right now,” Verwys tells them the day before it goes live. “I’m really, really proud of the work that you’ve done. You’re setting the bar.”

Colin Bradley designs the website for the twice-monthly student publication

Taking their Role Seriously  

Students responded in a big way to The Roar after Isabelle’s proposal was approved by Principal Mark Thomas. More than 80 applied for the club, with the final 25 being chosen by Isabelle and Karen. Those two went to a digital journalism workshop at Central Michigan University, and other students attended a CMU program this fall; Verwys plans to take the entire staff next June.

A group also attended School News Network’s inaugural week-long journalism camp in July.

By producing a twice-monthly publication, Verwys says she hopes the students gain experience in teamwork, producing quality and “how to write a good story that people want to read.”

“The stories that I read that kids care deeply about are the best stories,” says Verwys, adding it’s important students find their “voice” through writing. “I hope they really learn to figure out their own belief system: What do they believe in and what are they passionate about?”

For its student staffers, The Roar affords an opportunity to gain experience in writing, editing and design. Though they don’t necessarily plan on journalism careers, they relish the chance to cover events and trends in school and beyond.

“I think it’s just a cool way to bring up topics in a public manner that aren’t usually talked about in a public stance,” says Karen. “As a student, you know everybody’s talking about them but nobody’s actually addressing them. This is a way to bring out the facts of an issue.”

The Roar’s writers aim to broaden readers’ awareness. The first issue included stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and how the Electoral College works.

“As students, we’re so wrapped up in our own events and what’s going on in our lives, and not looking at the bigger picture,” says news editor Jill Muraski. “I feel like The Roar would give people an opportunity to be exposed to that.”

Coming off an ugly election driven by relentless media coverage, staffers take seriously their role as gatekeepers of reliable information.

“Journalists are supposed to provide an unbiased view of events,” Isabelle Luke says. “Without that, how are people supposed to know what the facts actually are?”

Co-editors Isabelle Luke and Karen Underwood write down story ideas offered by the staff

Independence within Limits  

Like their professional counterparts, Northview’s student journalists quickly learned that with publication comes responsibility. After receiving approval for the venture by Principal Mark Thomas, they were given a copy of the school district’s bylaws for school-sponsored publications and productions. It prohibits publishing stories that are inadequately researched, biased or profane. However, Verwys assures staffers the policy shouldn’t make them timid.

“I don’t want it to limit how big you think,” she tells them. “I don’t want you to feel hindered in what you can or can’t write about. It just might mean we have to change our approach to it.”

Then she has students brainstorm story ideas for their second issue, due out Dec. 8. Co-editors Isabelle and Karen write them down on the board — holiday traditions, first-time drivers in winter, the shorter Christmas break etc. – and staffers call out their choices. “I’ll do first-time drivers.” “I’ll do holiday traditions.” “Do you think we could do ‘when is it too early to start Christmas’ as an opinion piece?”

Ellie Haveman volunteers another idea: “We could do how our first publication went.”

“I like that!” Verwys says. “It’s scary, but I like it.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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