Students in the forefront
Third in a series
When anyone tells Mary Beth Tinker that students are the future, she firmly but politely corrects them: “No, they’re the present.”
If the students participating in the #Tinkerversary events this week are typical – and it would seem they are –, the present is in good hands.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas students from Parkland, Florida, who have shown the world through their speech and actions and student media, they can make a difference, getting young people to vote and keeping the pressure on for better gun laws. They have published two books with their media teachers, first “We Say #Never Again” and recently “Parkland Speaks.”
Rebecca Schneid, editor-in-chief of the school’s Eagle Eye newsmagazine and news website, who told the #Tinkerversary audience, “If you’re old enough to be affected by the ills of society, you’re old enough to have a say in it and old enough to speak up for it.” Schneid shared topics she had covered in her student media and encouraged other students in the audience to stand up for their rights and effect change.
Three Movement 515 students, like Yabsira Tekle, whose impassioned spoken word presentations about accepting differences and finding ways to get along left the audience breathless.
Two ninth graders from Decorah, Iowa, whose history project about Edna Griffin, the Rosa Parks of Iowa, won awards as it informed others of an important part of Des Moines history too few people know.
And two girls from Prosper, Texas, who not only have been fighting censorship and prior review of their student media, but, because of that, are now the force behind New Voices of Texas, a bill that would protect student press in all of Texas.
Senior Neha Madhira and junior Haley Stack said the arrival of a new principal in Fall 2017 brought unexpected changes to their high school in a growing community north of Dallas. “It was rough from the get-go,” Stack said. They and their student staff and adviser Lori Oglesbee-Petter were surprised when he retracted previous statements and complained that what they were writing made the school look bad.
A number of stories were censored, prior review tightened and finally editorials were banned entirely. Then their award-winning adviser did not have her contract renewed for the 2018-2019 school year. Students had tried to talk to the principal, taking him “The principal’s guide to scholastic media,” and using suggestions from members of JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee, but he ignored those.
Discovering New Voices at a state journalism convention after the third editorial was censored was good timing, Madhira said. She asked what they could do to get involved. “We’d love to use our stories and some of the other stories students shared.”
“It just took off from there,” she said. Now with a student-led campaign, they have a legislator who took the less-than-perfect original bill and is putting forward one from the Student Press Law Center.
Although they can now write editorials and don’t haven’t experienced censorship recently, “our censorship that we went through pushed us into this,” Madhira said of their work for New Voices. “The biggest thing we learned was we were not alone. We’re getting all these testimonies [from other Texas students who were censored], and using it to power New Voices here.”
Today, not tomorrow. That’s the focus of all these teens. They aren’t waiting until someone says they’re old enough. They’re ready to make a difference now.