R16 BOE applauds student journalism

BEACON FALLS — “In my 37 years of teaching, I have never seen the level of quality in a student newspaper that I have seen in the Hawk Headlines,” said Region 16 Board of Education member Robert Hiscox. The Woodland Regional High School student newspaper, Hawk Headlines, presented its product, as well as the WRHSMedia Department, at the board’s meeting Jan. 13 at Laurel Ledge School.

The staff of the Hawk Headlines, along with advisor and English teacher James Amato, gave a presentation to show the board what their program is all about.

“The journalism class, program and department operate differently than a normal class,” said Amato.

Students use the latest technology in print, audio and video media to create the Hawk Headlines, live broadcasts of athletic events and a weekly Web show mirroring the format of an evening television newscast. Region 16 Superintendent James Agostine invited representatives of the journalism program to last Wednesday’s meeting.

“What I wanted to stress to the board [through this presentation], is that if someone was missing their son’s or daughter’s game, they have the ability to watch it live,” Agostine said.

The department’s Web site, wrhsonline.net, posts both written and multimedia stories, in addition to live broadcasts of home games.

Lauren Gentile, a Woodland alumna and former Hawk Headlines sports editor, joined the meeting via Web chat to speak about how the Woodland journalism department prepared her for college.

“All the skills I learned at Woodland padded my resume when I applied to washingtonpost.com,” she said.

Gentile was hired as the only first-semester freshman intern at washingtonpost.com last fall.

Following the newspaper presentation, Laurel Ledge Principal Regina Merzak addressed three topics. First was an update about the recess before lunch program that began this school year. According to a study performed by the school, visits to the nurse have decreased by 10 percent.

Merzak said the program is a success, so far, and added separate surveys of parents and students and found both groups approve: A majority of parents are in favor of the program, and 71 percent of students would like to see it continue. She also noted that 81 percent of students surveyed are hungrier when they go to lunch than they used to be when lunch was before recess. Merzak said this increases the chance that students will grab healthy snacks in the lunch line.

The school had hoped the program would increase instructional time for teachers because students would be less riled up when they return to class. Thus far, teachers have reported no change.

Merzak’s second topic was a new parking policy at Laurel Ledge. According to her, some parents drop off students in the bus lane, double park to walk their children into the building or park in teachers’ spaces to bring their kids inside. Merzak’s account heated many members of the board. It is not a safety issue for students, but also “reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor,” according to Hiscox.

The new policy prohibits such parking practices; in order to enforce it, resident state trooper Anthony Cipriano will visit the school regularly to ensure the safety of students and drivers.

The third and final topic from Merzak was a School Readiness Program update. The program will prepare about 20 students, ages 3-5, for school. She said licenses and paperwork are being finalized, and the program could start as soon as next month.

The board also approved a five-year contract renewal with All Star Bus Company that carries a 0 percent increase the first year and 4 percent increases in each subsequent year. The contract will begin July 1, 2010 and last until June 30, 2015.

Gorman is a former editor of Hawk Headlines.