Start a parent booster club. You’ll be glad you did.

I was in my 10th year of teaching when I finally moved forward on a thought I had for years. I needed some help managing the many tasks of being a publication adviser, and I wanted an organized parent group. If the athletic teams, the band — even the school’s sports medicine group and mariachi band — had boosters, so should the journalism programs.

Motivated by events at the National High School Journalism Convention, I gathered a group of parents in December 2006 to lay a foundation for a journalism booster blub. “J-Boosters” was born.

I was surprised by the enthusiasm and interest. The parents had been waiting to be asked. They wanted to be involved with the activities in which their children participated. In retrospect, I can’t believe I waited so long to launch the parent group. It remains one of the best things I was involved with at Wenatchee High School.

RATIONALE

Here’s what I wrote in a letter in January 2007 to parents of students on the yearbook or newspaper staffs:

A national survey sponsored by the Knight Foundation and released two years ago showed nearly three-fourths of high school students don’t know how they feel about the First Amendment or take it for granted. Support among teens for freedoms in the First Amendment is less than among adults. Students lack knowledge about basic freedom of expression, and some students even think the First Amendment goes too far in the freedoms it guarantees. But, students who participate in journalism classes are more likely to appreciate these freedoms, and a recent update to the initial survey shows some improvement in enrollment and in attitude. Clearly, now more than ever, we need to preserve opportunities for students to participate in scholastic journalism such as the newspaper and yearbook.

GOALS

When it launched, the group had four main goals:

  • to support journalism in the curriculum
  • to support journalism activities financially
  • to promote the journalism program and raise awareness
  • to recognize the effort and accomplishments of student journalists

WHAT HAPPENED

The parents agreed to the goals above and for their activities they determined to hold a kickoff fundraiser, a Quill and Scroll honorary society induction ceremony and an end-of-year banquet.

The kickoff event was Feb. 21, during the national Scholastic Journalism Week — a perfect time to launch a new endeavor. The parents wanted to raise awareness of the new organization and of the accomplishments and plans of the WHS journalism program.

They also wanted to raise money. By the end of the evening, through a silent and live auction as well as patron donations, several thousand dollars were raised, establishing the necessary seed money for first projects. The event has continued every year since.

One important aspect was to have a fiscal agent to collect funds. The parents worked with a local foundation to provide this service, so that donations could be eligible for an income tax deduction.

Two months later, the J-Boosters inducted the first students into the Quill and Scroll Society, and in May, the joint end-of-year banquet included students from both staffs and their parents.

In that initial letter, I closed with this paragraph:

The Apple Leaf newspaper and Wa Wa yearbook at Wenatchee High School have earned top state, regional and national award both as a staff and for individuals. J-Boosters is an opportunity to recognize excellence and to provide a foundation and support structure for new projects and even greater achievements. Becoming a J-Booster can help a student attend a conference to learn a new skill, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and recognize a job well done all while promoting the important role that student journalists have in the school community. As a J-Booster, you’ll help invest in youth who may grow up to be journalists or other related media professionals, and we all have a vested interest in developing citizens who support fundamental freedoms.

The J-Boosters are still active at that school several years later, and I could not be happier. The students deserve the support, and the parents want to help. The legacy includes not just a parent organization but also stronger and more vibrant journalism programs.

Five helpful resources you don’t want to reinvent

Even though a few months of the school year have passed, it’s not too late to get some policies in place to help your organization be more successful. Look at each of these five items and evaluate how they can assist your staff. They’re all available from NSPA at The Wheel — resources you don’t want to reinvent.

Model Code of Ethics for High School Journalists
The NSPA Code of Ethics establishes seven ethical principles for high school journalists. No more modifying other codes of ethics. This one is specific to the situations facing high school students and advisers. And, it’s been created with all media in mind.

Why and how to use: Student journalists need to have a foundation in ethics, but they also need to have examples that recognize the unique aspects of scholastic journalism. Copy the Code and provide it to every staff member. Spend class time anticipating some of the ethical situations posed in the Code, and how students will deal with them.

Legal Issues for Publishing Online
Understanding the basics of media law is essential for any high school journalist. But that understanding may be even more important for the multimedia journalist because of issues unique to the online world.

Why and how to use: Many people have misconceptions about what is legal or ethical online. If you have a student media website, knowing the law is important. Compare the differences between print and online.

Sample Student Media Staff Member Contract/License
This sample contract and license between a student media staff member and a student media organization was drafted by the Student Press Law Center and is an attempt to fairly balance the intellectual property rights of the student creators of a work against the business and practical requirements of student media organizations that publish such work.

Why and how to use: If a student takes a photo, he or she owns the copyright. It doesn’t matter whose camera was used or whether it was for a class assignment. Being proactive to allow a limited use by the student media organization can avoid any gray areas — and tense situations — while protecting the student’s rights.

Equipment Checkout Forms
Ensuring the proper maintenance of photographic equipment starts with an organized system to know where the equipment is, who is using it and who had it last. A checkout procedure helps students take responsibility for keeping track of equipment and to understand the cost to replace equipment.

Why and how to use: These models are examples from educators who found systems that worked for them. Take what makes sense and make it work for you.

Obituary Samples and Policies
Being proactive with an obituary policy can make for easy decisions if, and when, student journalists need to cover the death of someone in the school community.

Why and how to use: During a stressful, emotional or confusing situation, it can be helpful to turn to a policy for guidance. Consider these models and what makes sense for your student media and situation.

Once you and your staff have all of these components in place, you’ll be in great shape.

Who owns the work? The person who created it.

Imagine this situation: A teacher, holding a student’s recent assignment, approaches the writer. It’s really good, the teacher says, praising the student. The student beams with pride and asks whether it might be good enough to get published.
“Oh, definitely,” the teacher replies. “And that’s exactly what our school plans to do since we own this piece of writing.”

The student, astonished, sputters out a response. “But why would you say you own this?” the student says. “I’m the one who wrote it!”

The teacher simply smiles and says, “Yes, but you used a school computer and printed it on our printer, so we own it.”

“But what about copyright?” the student asks.

“Yeah, well you did the work in my class, so I’m like your boss,” the teacher answered.

Fuming, the student ponders the law and situation until the end of school, when he darts out of class to check his rights.

Does this situation sound ridiculous? Most people would say yes. Yet that’s exactly the explanation student journalists hear when they’re told the publication, website or broadcast owns their photos, videos or stories. The fact is the creator owns the copyright. Unless the students are getting paid for their work — and neither course credit or even cookies count as payment — the individual maintains the ownership. So, if the president comes to town, a student takes an amazing photo of him, and the Associated Press wants to buy it, the student can make money, even if he or she used a school camera to take the photo.

There’s a solution that can preserve the rights of student journalists while also allowing the publication, Web site or broadcast the opportunity to be the first to publish the work and to do so for a period of time — even after the student has moved or graduated. Each adviser should work with his or her editor or producer to create a contract that spells out the rights and terms of using the student’s work for publication or broadcast. Conveniently, the Student Press Law Center has developed just such a model contract to use as-is or as a guideline for your own. Even more conveniently, the model contract is available as a PDF to download at the NSPA website under the portion labeled The Wheel, resources you don’t want to reinvent.

At the beginning of each term, review the contract with new staff members and have them sign your contract. A parent will have to sign for a student who is a minor. This practice solves the problem of what to do when a student takes a photo for the yearbook but wants to post it first on his or her Facebook page. You can mandate that when working for student media, right of first publication belongs to the publication or broadcast. An added benefit is that students and their parents know the student’s rights, and everyone models the appropriate use of copyrighted images, video and text. And that’s a good lesson for everyone.

One final suggestion: If students can borrow school equipment like cameras for personal use (taking a senior portrait, a weekend trip, or to a friend’s birthday party), consider a user agreement between student/parents and the equipment owner that spells out procedures for check-out and check-in. Remember to be clear about the condition the equipment should be in upon return (cleaned, charged, etc.) and what happens if damage occurs. It’s better to have a policy in place before something occurs than to get stuck with missing or broken equipment.