When members of a community want to know what's going on in high schools, they are turning more and more to the same source as students: the school paper.
The articles that parents, local journalists, and others find there cover more than just the quality of the cafeteria food and where the prom will be held.
At Webster Groves High School near St. Louis, for example, the March issue of the paper dealt with parties called raves - which often feature techno music and drugs like ecstasy and acid. "Raves are becoming increasingly popular, almost trendy, in the St. Louis area," says editor Amy Cook. The paper ran the story to educate students and also let parents know what happens at the parties, she says.
"We don't write specifically for parents," she says, but she adds that many of the issues they cover can help parents, some of whom have subscriptions, know more about what's going on in students' lives.
In January, reporters on Ms. Cook's staff went to local shops to see how easy it was for underage teens to buy cigarettes. When she went back with them to confront shop managers and take pictures at stores that did sell the teens cigarettes, they ended up making the evening news: One manager took Cook's camera and cut up the film.
"We did the right thing. I have absolutely no regrets about doing the story," she says, noting, though, that she's "not too popular among the smokers right now."
She says she thinks it's good that the paper has a broad readership. "We have a sense of community. We get a lot of feedback, which proves people are reading the paper."
Other student publications are hoping for more readers as well. Jessica Sobin, editor of the Springbrook High School paper in Silver Springs, Md., says, "We're looking for topics that will make people look at our paper." The paper has really taken off this year, she says, "because we're a lot more daring in what we print."
Ms. Sobin recently published a collection of articles by a variety of students -Korean, Indian, black, Hispanic -about what their lives are like. It prompted letters and discussions on race relations, which are generally good at the school.
"We used to get one letter to the editor a year. Now we get one per issue," Sobin says of their twice-monthly publication.
At Berkeley (Calif.) High School, editor Steven Barrie-Anthony says the students have changed the way they do things, too. "I feel like we've gotten smarter," he says. "Instead of pushing limits to push limits, we do it because it will produce a good effect."
This year, students spoke out in the paper against a variety of administrative issues, including the transfer of an experienced college counselor, which they believed was the reason some kids had problems meeting early-decision college-application deadlines. After the feature ran, the school brought the counselor back.
"I've learned how incredibly powerful the media can be," Mr. Barrie-Anthony says of his four years on the paper's staff.
Though students say they appreciate the experience they are getting, not all are committing to reporting as a career choice yet. "You really have to have thick, tough skin to go into journalism," says Sobin, "and I don't know if that's me."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society