Caledonia — News-hungry readers can find story headlines like “Bussin’ burritos” and “The life and death of Betty White” on student-run news website The Cal Connection.
Caledonia High School students in Kristen Covelle’s journalism class are learning how to be reporters, put together a yearbook and the life-long value of being good communicators.
A teacher of 17 years, Covelle left a job as a reporter to pursue teaching journalism and English at Caledonia High School.
“When I started teaching at Caledonia, we had a newspaper, this really wonderful printed newspaper. After leaving for a few years and then returning to teaching journalism, the printed news had gone away,” Covelle recalled.
In 2018, she inherited the yearbook class and decided to revamp it and combine it with her journalism curriculum to create one class offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Her class then launched The Cal Connection for writers to learn the fundamentals of journalism including research, interviewing, photography, writing and editing.
“I think it’s so important that we have news, even if we don’t have the numbers signing up for the course,” she said. “Teaching journalism, yearbook and online news is a heavy load, but the students in this class have really been stepping it up. We’re a machine.”
Yearbook Editor-in-Chief Livia Ubaldo is in her second year in the class and said she has “come to adore all of the members” and is “beyond excited” for the completion of the 2021-2022 yearbook.
“I’ve learned more about the students and about journalism,” said Livia, a junior. “With the yearbook, it’s mainly helping people format their pages and go over the content. With journalism, you’re interviewing and talking to people, (which are) communication skills that apply to real life.”
Jenna Waggoner, a junior who is editor-in-chief of The Cal Connection, said she enjoys journalism because “the rewards are so tangible and memorable, and we’re having a real impact on the students and the school.”
She added: “This is the first year we’re getting traction and pioneering online news that the student body can read and feel informed and connected to their peers.”
She added: “The main thing I’ve learned is how to communicate better with people but (this class) also helped me find my passion for communicating with people through words and writing and that I want to keep doing it.”
Racking Up Accolades
In December, Covelle’s well-oiled machine won Jostens’ National Yearbook Program of Excellence for the second time in three years, which recognizes school yearbook programs that excel in creating a meaningful experience for their staff and the students receiving the yearbook.
‘The rewards are so tangible and memorable, and we’re having a real impact on the students and the school.’– junior Jenna Waggoner, The Cal Connection editor-in-chief
The Michigan Interscholastic Press Association, a nonprofit organization housed in the Michigan State University School of Journalism, awarded the 2019 CHS yearbook the gold award as one of the top 20 yearbooks in the state. The 2020 yearbook received the silver award.
“I have my own passion and skills but I can’t teach anything if I don’t have students who are excited, engaged and who really care about telling the stories of our students,” Covelle said.
Since taking over the yearbook class, Covelle and her students are focused on creating a classroom culture that goes the extra mile to feature “under-covered students” in the yearbook.
“During the first year I produced the yearbook, we had 1,100 students in the school to cover, and our yearbook ended up covering at least 65% of students,” Covelle said. “You need to represent the narrative of all students and it’s a culture we’ve created to cover the under-covered at Caledonia.”
Sophomore and staff reporter Angel West thrives in the journalism class because it “makes sense how we put people’s feelings into stories and create change for the better.”
Job Skills for Many Fields
“Journalism opens up a world of job opportunities,” Angel said. “They’re looking for people who can take the resources they have to offer and help society. This can be it if you see the good parts of it.”
Covelle also encourages her yearbook students to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable, push their boundaries and be responsible for each other.”
“(This class) is why I became a teacher and left journalism,” Covelle said. “I want every student to become a more competent communicator, so they feel that they have agency in their life and can make the changes to the world if they know how to get information and hold it.”
Senior Donovan Mattson serves the yearbook staff as the sports division editor and said he enjoys putting the pages together and seeing the final product. He hopes to utilize his communication and writing skills while pursuing a degree in engineering next year.
Junior Kyla Nelson wants to become an English teacher, thanks to encouragement and “compliments on my writing” from Covelle.
Covelle said she plans to continue recruiting students to cover school news and expand the program into separate classes.