Tara Verderosa, 26, had a far away look on her face as the period beep sounded and one could only tell she had a look that was very thankful that her busy week was coming to a close. “I’m tired” she said, recognizing the fact she had persevered through a week of coaching Soccer, English and Journalism to a bevy of young minds looking to explore the best parts of who they are in competitive and creative spirit. As the main force behind the resurrection in the Las Vegas area at the Spring Valley High School Grizzly Growler newspaper and one of the architects behind the paper version’s rise from the ashes to within one year of print be presented with seven category wins this past May at the 40th annual Las Vegas Review-Journal High School Journalism Awards it is easy to recognize why there might be some signs of fatigue.
As the students began to file in to her Journalism class, many looking to submit their initial offerings for the very first time. “This should be very interesting” she noted and took a large breath, maybe to signify her to herself that it was almost time to gear up for what would come next. A Journalism veteran and long time Las Vegas resident who previously worked with the Review-Journal, she was very familiar with what needed to be done in order to keep the level of the paper to a continued higher standard. However as an individual with an educational background as well she knew it was also time for some tough love to begin. Even though she had set aside for a time her career in Journalism to advance her teaching experience, it was very plain to see that the reporter’s life was never far away from her thoughts.
“When the opportunity came up to do the paper here in Spring Valley, (I realized) how great it would be to instill that to students who have that same feeling.” With that opportunity has come a litany of challenges, not the least of which required thousands of dollars in fund raising efforts before any attempt was made to get the paper to print. While the Growler has maintained an online presence (http://thegrizzlygrowler.com), an added quarterly issue in paper form has added real weight to what is being written and an extra added sense of satisfaction for the students themselves. “It was important to me that there be a print product as well” Tara indicated.
Zack Oliver, 17, the paper’s student Editor in Chief (who smiled at the notion he was the outlet’s “grizzled veteran”) cited the difference in how the journalism concept had changed at Spring Valley with Verderosa at the helm. “When I first came to school in my freshman year it (the Journalism program) wasn’t nearly as developed” noting how the work was more relegated to text assignments and maintaining the online status. He noted that things began to change when Tara took over the program.
“We got a new teacher, Miss Verderosa and she had a lot of bigger ideas than what we previously had done…I started enjoying it seeing how I could write about these stories that are really cool and how (with a paper edition) I could show it to everyone on campus.”
With the class finally settled in Tara began to lay down the instructions for what would come next. A brief meeting with the student editors was needed before any first drafts were going to be read. She indicated to the students (which had risen from 30 the year prior to more than double at 80 with split classes needed to handle the large quantity) some of whom were still furiously working on their initial drafts that they still had some time to work on their stories while the huddle with the editors was taking place. If they needed further reference on how to complete their task, a green card was handed out with what would be best described as a list of basics, practice and standards on how to write their stories and what literary pratfalls to avoid. As the student editors gathered in a separate room, Tara emphasized to the group to “be nice but be honest” because “that is our job (as editors).”
The success of the paper has not gone unnoticed by those working within the school’s administration. There also is the appearance of a clear understanding of the challenges of bringing the students and the Journalism department closer together. As the Dean of Students, Ian Salisman, 48, shared his thoughts on what the Growler‘s success has done for the school, one could clearly notice the amount of pride the school has in the successful transformation of the paper itself.
“I think (the paper) it’s been a huge hit. One thing we are always excited about is getting positive stories about the great things going on in our school. We see it as a great avenue for publishing those kinds of (positive) stories to the school community and not just to the students but to their parents who pick up the paper when the kids bring it home.” He noted the school allocating funds to assist the school paper which “is a really big part of our parent communication too.” Salisman also indicated that the move from a six to an eight period day has really helped the program due to kids needing more electives to fill which in turn increases the number of students that are getting exposed to new experiences like the Journalism program.
As one of the students who helped grow the paper into an award-winning school outlet, Ash Laparra, 17, the paper’s student Entertainment and Opinion Editor has taken up the Journalistic cause. Her outstanding work garnered her victories in three categories at the awards show in May which was something that caught her completely off guard.
“I didn’t expect to win. But for me it was more than just winning for myself. It was more about (winning for) the camaraderie between me and my fellow editors. All the hard work all year (we put in) paid off.”
Indeed it has as the staff’s work on the paper included a variance of stories seemingly not found enough on many school newspapers. Articles that touched on issues of teen depression, student cancer and school policies and curriculum changes have garnered as much importance within the direction of the paper as anything else. One is likely to find issues that tackle the very substance of the student core just as much as they would find updates on the school’s athletic endeavors. As one continues with a deep progression into each edition of the paper the impression that becomes most prominent is that of the student voice and it is this emphasis that gives The Grizzly Growler its own unique feel and brilliance as a “can’t miss” reading option.
“It’s about pushing the boundaries” Ash indicated as she described her work on articles of Christianity and school institutions and her opinions with flaws in the educational system and school lunch programs. As someone who has already come up with a great deal of opinions, many of which emanated from her experiences with television, movies and politics at an early age it was clear in the future she was going to have a great deal to write about.
When speaking on school lunches she indicated how “so many European countries do it better. Living in this area of Las Vegas, there are a lot of low income families taken advantage of the most” as she indicated with a passion that is clearly reflected with her award winning work. With her future charting a course for the University of Nevada-Reno Reynolds School of Journalism, Laparra’s career looks to be just getting started. “Journalism will never die” she boldly indicated with a confidence that would make it difficult for anyone to argue against.
With the coaching of the editors on how to approach their fellow students with the stories they are working on out of the way it was time for the class to reassemble into category sections. As the groups gathered into News, Sports and Entertainment/Opinion sections, many of the students were becoming increasingly more aware of what specifics were needed to advance their articles into the next stage of formal publishing. With each new story that was handed to her, Tara meticulously scanned each with a detail of a fine toothed comb offering suggestions on what to fix before moving onto the next offering.
So what’s next for The Grizzly Growler as it enters a new year of story possibilities and hope for another array of impressive student articles. “I think we’re just looking to maintaining that quality” Tara said and cited website improvements as issues that needed to be addressed. But while there is work to be done there the emphasis still remains squarely on providing a quality newspaper product.
” I don’t mean to take away from obviously where (the news media) industry is headed.”” noting that Journalism in the inevitable future will have an ever larger online presence. “(But) for me, I don’t want to say it’s more important, but the print (version) is more important at this (high school) level. At this level the tangible paper version is the buy in… They get a better feel for what it’s like to be in a newsroom. I don’t think (a website) has the same immediacy… I think them seeing that this is their product, this is (the student’s) name on it and it’s all around campus and you can put this on your refrigerator and you can show it to grandma…is worth keeping.”
Zack agreed with Tara’s assessment, “It definitely seems more important when you can actually see it on paper as opposed to being (on the internet)… It’s almost like if you were to get an award you would want to (get) the material award…I feel like if you were going to be doing Journalism you would want to get the print (version) first and have the feel for the print version first before you move online…it will help you (as a Journalism student) more.”
As the class discussions continued and the interaction between the students on the issues most concerning to them continued on in earnest, it was evident that the stories the paper would ultimately come up with would continue the new tradition of providing quality articles that stir debate and provide important information to both the Spring Valley High School student base and the local Las Vegas community that embraces it. If anyone is of the mindset that the future of Journalism is bleak and that it’s future is in perilous doubt one need look no further than this high school newspaper as proof that quite the opposite is true. After spending some time with the staff of the Grizzly Growler, it’s readily apparent that Journalism is now more alive than ever.
(Many thanks to Tara, Zack, Ian, Ash and the students, faculty and administration of Spring Valley High School and to Gil in the Communications Department of the Clark County School District for their amazing help with this article.)