When Devon Treharne was a high school student in upstate New York, in love with reading and writing, she didn’t apply to be on the staff of her school’s newspaper.
“I was intimidated,” said Ms. Treharne, who teaches high school English and a journalism class at the Shelter Island School, as well as being adviser to the school’s newspaper, The Inlet.
“The paper had won all kinds of awards,” she said, and she didn’t think she could measure up. “I regret it now.”
She remembered that, when she helped revive the Shelter Island school paper nine years ago with former School Superintendent Michael Hynes, she actively recruited students she thought would flourish in student journalism.
The Inlet, under editor Myla Dougherty, 16, a junior, is a lively, thoughtful and informative paper appearing about once a quarter. The latest edition was late getting into the P.O. boxes of every Islander because of — what else? — the pandemic. .
“Our paper was trapped in the school,” Ms. Dougherty said. In addition to the print edition, it can be found on the school district’s website at shelterisland.k12.ny.us/. Click on ‘Resources’ to find The Inlet.
The paper is professionally laid out, attractive to the eye and crisply written. It gives a full view of student life, taking seriously local, national and school issues, while showcasing the fun and entertaining part of being part of a school community. In the current edition (the next one hits the streets around Feb. 11, Ms. Dougherty said), the front page has a story by Sophie Clark on what the graduating class of last year is up to and a story by Ms. Dougherty on how to navigate through the DMV and get appointments for driving tests in a time of COVID.
There’s an editorial about the healing powers of nature and suggestions to get out more to experience the natural world, along with a plea to help save the environment. Another compelling story was a take on dress codes for students by Emma Teoduru. There are concise profiles and Q&A’s of students, staffers and teachers throughout, by Daria Kolomogorova, Zeb Mundy and Mackenzie Speece. Jane Richards takes a deep dive into the often crossed wires between journalism and science, with the difficulty of the former to describe the latter’s language. Francis Regan looks at the National Honor Society; Emma Martinez has a piece on early graduates; Jalill Carter writes about sports; Valeria Reyes has a take on “quarantine pets” and how field trips are faring during COVID; Aroldo Pantaleon-Castro asks respondents for favorite holiday songs; and Ms. Martinez chronicles some truly quirky holiday traditions.
One fun feature that stands out is “Only on Shelter Island,” where Caleb Lambert asked questions about what makes the Island unique. The responses included that you can identify everyone you pass by their car; a shed costs a million dollars; you’re able to say hello to every person you pass by name; there’s overwhelming support for LGBTQ community; you can eat breakfast at a pharmacy; and everyone knows your personal business.
Getting it together
The paper takes form from lengthy sessions of pitching and refining ideas, just as in any newsroom. Ms. Dougherty, with Ms. Treharne sitting in, hashes out angles and leads with the staff. “Our paper is as student-run as it can be,” Ms. Treharne said. “We’ve always had outstanding editors and I’ve always put a lot on them. In our brainstorming sessions, almost all the ideas come from the kids.”
She added, with a laugh, “At least 75% of my ideas are rejected. Which is great.” She does a final run-through to polish copy, she said, but it just takes a light touch.
Ms. Dougherty was selected last spring to be editor and was ready for the challenge, she said. “I’ve always loved reading, and it got me interested in writing.” For someone so young, she’s an avid reader of the New York Times, “and, of course, the Reporter.”
But she also reads the Suffolk Times, The East Hampton Star and the New Yorker magazine. Not only is her consumption of journalism impressive for someone her age, but more is how she reads it, preferring paper to screens.
Her grandfather, Reporter columnist Richard Lomuscio, has been a strong influence on her to learn the journalist’s trade, she said. At the Hayground School, where she attended elementary school, Mr. Lomuscio helped start a student paper that she was a part of.
The most difficult aspect of an editor’s life? “At first it was the layout, but working with Ms. Treharne it’s turned out to be fun,” she said. Ideas for editorials are difficult to come by at times, but once she has an idea, “I’m really excited to write about it.”
Other enjoyable duties are “thinking about articles, talking in class about them, finding out what’s happening around school. Getting excited about the next issue.”
Does she have to hound the staff about deadlines? Ms. Dougherty laughed. “They’re usually pretty good. But sometimes it comes down to, “Guys …”
News to use
Ms. Treharne said she selects students for The Inlet she believes can improve the newspaper but also improve their own lives through learning journalism. She finds skills a student already has are enhanced by working on the paper, and sees other skills that emerge. Some students find writing easy and engaging, but are a bit shy when it comes to interviewing sources.
“And some kids are ‘Sure, who should I see, who should I talk to, can I do this? Can I do that?’” she said. “But then when it comes down to writing the story they’re a little slower.”
As a teacher, one of her rewards is “seeing kids come out of their shells and get excited about being part of the paper.”
In a recent Indiana University study, research found that students who take high school journalism classes or work on the school paper:
• Get better grades in high school.
• Score higher on the ACT.
• Earn higher grades as college freshmen.
The Inlet is essential to the staff and the school, but is equally important to Shelter Island, especially during a time of crisis, Ms. Treharne said.
“It gives the community the voices of our children,” she added. “And they have a lot to say. It can show the loneliness of the pandemic and the pain. It shows how adolescents are dealing with this very hard time.”