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Eagle-eyed reporters

Novice journalists cover high school sports

Did you know Kent City football players didn’t always include weightlifting as part of their conditioning? “Years ago, they didn’t have to lift weights, they were all farmers,” said junior Nathan Vanderwest, inferring that heaving hay bales built big muscles for linemen and quarterbacks.

That’s just one interesting tidbit Nathan learned while interviewing members of the 1978 championship football team. He is one of the newest journalists writing for the district’s website. While he doesn’t receive monetary compensation, he receives high school language-arts credit for his work.

Kent City High School students in the new  independent study class, Media Competency, write feature articles for the school athletic website. “The assignments they are completing each day not only help promote our programs, it takes some work off from my plate,” Vogel, who manages the site, told the Board of Education at a recent meeting.

“I am most definitely learning the skills I need, said senior and Holly Kosak, a high school reporter who hopes to study journalism in college.

Nathan Vanderwest stands with Kent City principal Bill Crane at a board of education presentation

Writing real news

Holly particularly like interviewing people for her articles. “Normally I ask simple and kind of fun questions so people can get to know them and I always end with ‘What’s one thing that you want to say to the readers?,’” she said.  Like Nathan, she has learned some interesting facts while gathering information, like “Mrs. Evers (Jill Evers, track and field coach) rarely eats junk. She is such an interesting person.”

“The class is extremely valuable for students because the writing they are doing is real,” said instructor Jason Vogel. “Rather than turning in a paper as they would in a regular English class that is only read by the instructor, their work is reviewed by thousands of people who visit our website everyday or attend our games. There is a motivation to get things right and turn in something interesting as they know it will be published.”

“I really like working with Mr. Vogel (instructor),” said Holly. “He used to be an English teacher and he really helps me with my writing.”

Board member Rick Stockhill congratulated Vogel for his innovation. “As a board we want to thank Jason and our administration for identifying a need and finding a place where students can be held to high standards,” he said. “This really fills a need and you have found three talented individuals with the drive needed to do this. As a board we are extremely happy with the product. This is something we really don’t often get to see.”

Nathan Vanderwest spends much of his class time for his independent study at the computer keyboard

Research, write, meet deadline

Students tap into their creative genius and work together and with staff to come up with story ideas, Vogel said. They include profiles of student athletes, informational pieces things such as pool rules and hours. They get to know the “Eagle of the Week” for a regular column. They research old yearbooks for creative stories about teams from the past.

“The students have been outstanding. They have taken real ownership of this class and spend a lot of time out of class researching and writing so they can meet deadlines and that their stories are timely and relevant,” said Vogel.

Students hone writing skills, learn to edit, and practice handling deadlines. One article, which featured team and homecoming pictures from 1978, was chosen to run on Varsity News Network, which reaches thousands of readers, Vogel said.

“I have to hold myself to high standards,” said junior Katie Schneider-Thomas, who is also taking the independent study.  “Other classes have more consistency and in this one we need to learn to discipline ourselves.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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