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‘Storytellers of the future’: Student-reporters value challenge of keeping Sparta informed

High school broadcast team works daily to bring news to viewers

Sparta — As the bell sounds and students settle in for the day at Sparta High School, the crack student-reporters at Spartan News get to work. 

From sports updates to testing announcements to the weather, the station is there to keep students, parents and the school community in the know.

It’s a fast-paced business, bringing the news of the day to hundreds of people, and it’s not without its challenges. By 9:30 a.m., all video stories have to be filmed, edited and ready to be posted to the Spartan News Daily YouTube channel.

But members of the team are well-accustomed to the pressures of a deadline, and they’re up to the task. 

‘If you don’t do your part, if you’re not a good teammate, it affects everyone. That’s what this class really is about.’

— Paul Owens, Sparta High School teacher

“You have to get the news out today,” emphasized junior Justin Bradford. “If you’re working on a clip, it has to be done by the end of the hour or it won’t be the news.”

Senior Peyton Petack agreed, saying she credits the class with teaching her the value of working under pressure.

“It gets stressful by the end of the hour if your clip’s not done,” Peyton said. “You want to hurry up and finish it, but you also want to make it good.”

It takes skill to get it right, Justin said, and Peyton concurred.

“It’s definitely finding balance and handling hard situations,” she said.

Striking that balance is a function of teamwork at play, said teacher Paul Owens. He stressed that one of the main goals of the class is to foster collaboration, cooperation and a sense of pride in one’s work — all transferable skills that will aid students in their post-high school lives.

“The most important thing about this class is that it’s really about employability skills,” Owens said. “Do you show up on time? Do you care? Do you make your best effort? Do you support the team? Because anytime you don’t do those things, it’s a bad reflection on everyone. 

“It’s like a sports team or the band, or a drama production: if you don’t do your part, if you’re not a good teammate, it affects everyone. That’s what this class really is about.”

‘Storytellers of the Future’

There are 50 students — a combination of sophomores, juniors and seniors — involved in Spartan News, which has been around, off and on, since the ‘90s. Owens, who continues to teach even in semi-retirement, said the class has existed in its current iteration since around 2008. 

He said the digital focus is fitting for the program, as it readies students for the modern media landscape.

“The storytellers of the future are primarily going to be bringing their stories with video and sound, as opposed to just text,” Owens said. “To be able to communicate effectively in any area — whether it’s professionally, commercially or something you’re passionate about  — video’s going to be the main medium.”

Students clearly see the value of the class, and they enjoy the challenge and rigors of the schedule too. Many of the staffers have enrolled in the class for multiple years in a row.

Justin and Peyton have clocked two and three years in the course, respectively. Justin enjoys delivering welcoming announcements, while Peyton said she likes featuring students for the Spartan Spotlight segment.

“Somebody’s nominated every month, or every other week,” she said. “We’ll go find people and talk to them about what they’re doing outside of school and inside of school, and how they’re helping the community and helping the school. That’s a really fun segment that I get to do.”

Seniors Christian Garska and Annika Schippers welcome viewers to a recent edition of Spartan News

Senior Dashun Mack has also logged three years with Spartan News.

“I’ve taken it every year since my sophomore year,” said Dashun. “I just like video creation and being able to share what’s going on around the neighborhood and the school.”

Dashun is keen to apply the skills he’s learned. His experience with the class partially informed his decision to start his own photography business and to minor in photography in college. 

He said the class has shown him how to navigate workload and communication issues, and also encouraged him to think critically about obstacles. 

“I feel like it’s helped with my overall problem-solving,” Dashun said.

That sentiment is music to Owens’ ears, and the veteran teacher said it’s emblematic of the most important lesson Spartan News imparts.

“Those character qualities, those are invaluable skills,” Owens said. “And those skills are important to have.”

Read more from Sparta: 
New adaptive classes help bridge differences
A place for greatness: Student art display dates back decades

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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