Writing is a powerful medium of conveying a message to an audience as well as quickly sharing news in a detailed and accurate manner so as to educate students on the major events in their community. This skill is one of my personal strong suits because I find that I am able to take the information that I learn in the news gathering process and piece it together in an accurate manner that is conducive to educating and leaving an impact on my readers. The following pieces of work are stories and news reports that most exemplify my ability as a journalist to tell the stories of students at the school and report dependably on the news in my community.
Competing to Serve
This story was published in our 2016-17 Yearbook, “As It Unfolds”. Our aim with the theme of this book was to capture the stories of students who were learning who they are and who they would like to become during their high school journey. With this piece, I shared the story of a senior who discovered her passion long before high school and planned to utilize it to make an impact on other people in the future. Oftentimes, these kind of positive stories go unnoticed and it is important to ensure that they are shared with our audience so that people like Morgan Miller and her desire to make a difference inspire others to do the same.
When senior Morgan Miller was ten years old, she got involved with a group of people who would play an important role in her life all the way through high school as well as after she graduated. This group inspired Miller’s passion for working with special needs students and played a large role in shaping her plans for a career after high school.
Miller found her niche when she began to work as a volunteer for the Therapeutic Recreation program at Southridge Recreation Center. The program aims to improve the lives of students with special needs by helping them to compete in Special Olympics sports, some of which include swimming, bowling and tennis. In addition, the Therapeutic Recreation program also hosts dances and arranges martial arts classes for special needs students to participate in.
“My brother worked a lot at Southridge and I got to know the head of the program. I followed my brother around and then he got out of it so it became more of my thing,” Miller said. “I began volunteering for their sports programs and I fell in love with it. I have now been involved in this program for seven years and I have probably helped and volunteered for everything the program has to offer.”
Being accepted in a community can be challenging for teenagers with disabilities. From the moment she got involved with special needs students, Miller was hooked on getting those students involved with others so that they are able to connect with and be involved in activities that they love. If they can be involved with a sports team or other gathering, they aren’t left out of the community. In the Therapeutic Recreation program, athletes joined basketball and soccer teams and participated in dances and martial arts classes.
“I love the environment and getting to form bonds with all of the students I work with,” Miller said. “I am able to spend my days enjoying the simplest joys and making a true difference in the lives of each individual I get the opportunity to work with.”
Working as a peer at Southridge was Miller’s starting point, but her work did not stop there. Upon reaching Vista, Miller also joined the Unified Soccer and Basketball programs as a partner and registered for the Peer Intern class, where she had the chance to work with special needs students during the school day. A few of the students she began to work with at school were also members of the Therapeutic Recreation program, so Miller had a head start on building relationships with the athletes.
She worked her way up to being a coach for the both the basketball and soccer team, demonstrating through her leadership the value of doing service for others. As a coach, Miller’s role was to ensure that every athlete was involved in the game and received equal playing and time and shooting opportunities.
“I needed to rotate athletes in about every five minutes and make sure the athletes get to play their desired position and always have a smile on their face,” Miller said. “My favorite part about being involved in this program was getting to see the constant smiles on the athletes faces every time they stepped on the field or court.”
In 2015, Miller took the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics World Games. 6,500 athletes from 65 countries attended the games and had the opportunity to compete in 25 different events. While Miller was attending the event, she was able to interact with students from across the world and spend time helping them to play a variety of sports. The time she spent there was a highlight in her special olympics sports career.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” Miller said. “I got to spend time with all the athletes and I formed a special bond with a girl from Puerto Rico and it was a really cool [experience],” Miller said.
As the years passed, Miller began to take on an increasing amount of responsibilities as a peer in the special needs programs at the school and the rec center, allowing her passion to guide her through high school. In total, Miller took the Peer Intern class for six of her eight semesters at Vista.
“I’ve got a lot more involved with different programs like here at Vista with coaching Unified and taking Peer Intern,” Miller said. “Southridge offers a lot of different programs like dances and other sports so I just gradually over time did a lot more.”
For many students, high school is the place to explore potential career avenues, but it wasn’t during high school that Miller decided to dedicate the rest of her life to supporting people with disabilities. Rather, it was the moment she began to interact with special needs.
“I knew it was what I wanted to do from the beginning,” Miller said.
The peer, coach and volunteer is no less certain now of her future than she was at ten years old. After graduating, she plans to spend a month of her summer spending more time with disabled people by getting a teaching job at the Arc Foundation in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Arc Tampa Bay is a non-profit organization that strives to serve people with disabilities, a mission similar to that of the Therapeutic Recreation program at Southridge. Miller’s work there, however, will be centered around a different group of people.
“This program is for people who are over the age of 21,” Miller said. “I am so used to working with younger people with disabilities, and this time I will get to work with older people, so I think it will be a really cool and eye-opening experience for me.”
As a teacher at the foundation, Miller’s role would be to instruct all subjects, but she would mostly be teaching life skills to older people with special needs.
Following her work at the Florida foundation, Miller hopes to get involved with a similar program at the University of Northern Colorado and to continue visiting Highlands Ranch over summer to stay involved in the Therapeutic Recreation program at Southridge.
As for her work at the high school, Miller hoped that she included students in the Unified program that would have been left out otherwise.
“There are some students that feel that they don’t fit in,” Miller said. “I just hope that they feel more involved.”
Miller’s experience with special needs kids allowed her to play a role in the activities of students as their high school journey unfolded. As she turned the pages of her own high school career, the same students she interacted with also contributed to her own story.
“The biggest impact that this has all had on me is getting to feel fulfilled,” Morgan said. “[I also] built bonds with so many incredible people I met along the way.”
For the first issue of our newsmagazine in the 2016-17 school year, we focused on the theme “fearless” to illustrate the stories of students at Vista. When I set out to write a feature, I was initially focused on the big idea of being without fear and attempted to find a student who was doing something that students would consider incredibly courageous or brave. Instead, I found a story that was nowhere near the spotlight but embodied the idea of fearlessness more clearly than any other student could have. The opportunity to write this piece demonstrated to me the value and power of small details that aren’t often given attention as well as the responsibility of myself as a journalist to seek out and share these kind of stories.
Junior Emma Campbell sees people who are weak and without a voice in the world as those who are controlled by fear. Men and women, teens and children, whether they are oppressed by a ruler or afraid to speak out, are rendered silent across the world. To overcome fear, it has to be acknowledged as a force that is natural, but not all-powerful.
“There is no right or wrong answer to who is weak,” Campbell said. “Fear is within everybody, it is human, it is entirely natural. It’s just something that you can’t let consume you.”
A passionate writer for her entire life, Campbell has surrounded herself with novels, authors, and literature. In Josh Brandt’s AP Language class, students received the opportunity to write a 750-word editorial column about a topic of their choice. Topics ranged from global issues to problems that are unique to Mountain Vista. Campbell, one of Brandt’s students, seized this chance to share her idea about people in society without a voice.
“[I chose to write about] it because it is important,” Campbell said. “People don’t realize, I don’t do a lot of things that I could probably succeed at because I am afraid of the results, I am afraid of failure, and I am afraid of disappointment. All these things hold me back and I realize that this is a problem. People need to realize that fear is real but it is not something that is going to suffocate you.”
Amongst the men, women, and children, she sees high school students as one of the primary victims of doubt caused by society because of their tendency to be swayed by their surroundings.
As students progress through their four years of high school education, they are challenged with big decisions that can have an even larger impact on their future. While they evaluate the path they will take, students are constantly influenced by societal norms and ideals that conflict with their previous identity.
“High school is go time,” Campbell said. “These four years, Freshman to Senior, are what determines what you are going to be in life, you are going to lose some things and gain some things but it is your base. We are so uncertain of who we are right now because everybody is telling us to be different things.”
Campbell wanted to relate to her readers by putting them in her shoes as they read her editorial. Describing her experiences in 1st person, she aims to prove to students that they are not alone in any fears that they have. After Campbell finalizes her work she plans to submit it to local newspapers in the state, aiming to spread her message to other people to banish the fear of the unknown that she believes has taken hold of people around the world.
“I just want people to realize there is no right or wrong answer to a power struggle, that is all fear is,” Campbell said. “I want people to know that fear is real and I want them to accept it and then grow with it because you can’t get rid of it.”
The English students took a week to brainstorm their topic, write a rough draft, make edits, and finalize their work. On the day their opinion pieces were due, the class split into small groups of about four or five to take the time share their editorials. After listening to all group members, the name of the author with the best writing was written on the whiteboard and they were encouraged to read in front of the whole class. Faced with a daunting task, a few of the uncertain students opted out of sharing while others hesitantly agreed to read the class their column.
Elected by her group to read in front of the class, Campbell first decided not to take part in the reading, but then she reconsidered.
“I wasn’t going to [read my editorial]. I was intimidated because everybody else was so good. I would be the last person to go, people were going to be leaving on that thought,” Campbell said. “Then I realized that this is exactly what I am telling other people not to do. How could I sit here behind my little computer screen, tell you not to be afraid, and then not voice my own opinion. What I was writing, while I was writing to other people, applied to myself.”
So, satisfied with the opportunity taken to speak out about her opinions, Campbell left her classmates on a Wednesday afternoon with the thought that fear can only be overcome by speaking out, and that those with the strength to do so are fearless.
OPINION: A Review of “The Post”, and What it Really Means
As a staff, we viewed a showing of the newly-released movie “The Post” regarding the release of the Pentagon Papers and the process of the Washington Post and New York Times in publishing the information. This movie was one of the most powerful I have experienced in a long time and its content was a clear signal to me that the current state of the media and freedom of the press is in danger. It reminded me of the vital role of journalists in society as well as what I as a journalist must strive to do to maintain the responsibility of the press at my local level. This opinion piece was published here on vistanow.org
Not many high school students are interested in seeing a movie about a print newspaper largely due to the fact that not many high school students read newspapers anyway and would also assume that the amount of excitement in that subject area is lacking. The same students would likely be surprised to find that Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” is a movie that defies their expectations, balancing a dramatic battle for First Amendment rights with relevance and meaning that is clearly applicable to the modern world.
The plot of the movie follows the Washington Post, set in 1971, led by publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) as it risks going public as a company. Coupled with the initial public offering is the release of classified government secrets regarding the negative progress of the Vietnam War by the Washington Post’s competitor: The New York Times. The release sparks a race between the two papers to be the next biggest source of information about what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.
Eventually, Washington Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) discovers the source of the papers, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), who was a former member of the Rand Corporation global policy think tank. Bagdikian collects the documents and sets out to publish his findings with the Washington Post, which leads to a debate between Graham, Bradlee, and the company’s advisers over publishing the work. Ultimately, Bradlee and Graham prevail in their pro-publishing argument, thus leading to the release of the information by the Post and a supreme court case that defended the freedom of the press in the United States.
It is the passion with which all of the characters of “The Post” are portrayed, along with the significance of their role in “the first draft of history” that makes it such a powerful film.
At only one point during the movie does Tom Hanks, in his role as Ben Bradlee, loosen his conviction to share the Pentagon Papers as the editor of the Washington Post, and he does it out of compassion for Graham and the fact that she could lose everything with her status as publisher. Otherwise, Hanks makes the faith of his character in the reporting of the truth clear with his heated defense of the right to publish an unwavering leadership of the paper. Each confrontation with the Post’s board members on the screen seems to be dominated by Bradlee’s argument and his determination to publish prevails.
Meryl Streep, who initially plays the part of Graham in a timid and inexperienced manner, demonstrates the full capability of her female character in a male-dominated world when she stands up to opposed adviser Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) and asserts her decision to publish. As the first woman to occupy her executive position, she demonstrates with this powerful passion to serve the public that the world of journalism was not a place for men, but for any person with a passion to accurately inform the public and hold power accountable.
Acting and plot line set aside, the aspect of “The Post,” which should strike viewers the most, is how precisely it reflects the current climate of the United States. The presidential election of Donald Trump marked the beginning of an era where the legitimacy of a news organization is judged not by the accuracy of its reporting but rather by the convenience of which it suits the people in power. Trump has sparked a trend in which politicians are able to simply label anything that describes them unfavorably as “fake news” and use the term to attempt to discredit any information placing them in the negative spotlight. President Richard Nixon’s attempt to stifle the truth about the progress of the Vietnam War in the film, is eerily similar to the most recent tactic and seems to mark a second trend in which the reputation of the same politicians is more important to them than the well-being of the people of the United States.
According to Politifact, Trump himself has made over 329 statements since 2015 that are mostly or completely incorrect. It’s ironic that the man who has viciously waged his war against “fake news” throughout the course of his presidency is actually a large distributor of it, but more notably disturbing is that his actions have created an atmosphere in which it is difficult for many citizens to distinguish between false and real news. Unlike the movie’s world of 1971, when the people seemed to universally trust the New York Times’ and Washington Post’s release of the top-secret Pentagon Papers, the president’s simultaneous detection of so-called “fake news” and his propagation of the same news has blurred the line between credible and untrustworthy sources.
To compound the issue, news migrated to a location nonexistent in “The Post” and with no boundaries against lies: the internet. In the 47 years since 1971, social media has risen to form one of the most popular platforms for news, but it is far from the most friendly place for truth. Not only are government officials denying fact, people are joining in autonomously.
A study by the Pew Research Center showed that users of media sites such as Facebook, are “increasingly forming into ‘echo chambers’ of those who think alike. They will keep unfriending those who don’t and passing on rumors and fake news that agrees with their point of view.” The fake news epidemic has been permitted to rise in part because of this type of action that users take on social media. People are now following the President’s lead and utilizing fake news to promote their personal beliefs and bury the truth that may negatively affect them or those who they believe in.
Essentially, the internet has transformed into a source for accurate and ethical news but also a swamp for the spread of fake news and deception. Many social media sites have enlisted the help of organizations, like factcheck.org, that root out fake news and the sources of fake news in order to dampen the expansion of lies. However, it’s not often recognized that preventing the reading of this kind of information comes down to the readers themselves, who both voluntarily and unwillingly spread fake news.
Fake news is extremely easy to pass on without even being aware of doing it, and every piece that we retweet, like, or share only contributes to the pandemonium. We miss questionable content because it’s always designed to be accepted as fact. The authors of fake news manipulate and invent news that is sensational so that readers are caught up in the excitement, rather than the accuracy.
The main idea is this: technology and ignorance, coupled with the country’s leadership, are jeopardizing the freedom of the press and by association, every other First Amendment right. Trump’s hypocritical war on fake news has only one purpose, which is to provide him with an excuse to bar the legitimate press from doing their job.
In February of last year, Trump described reporters as “the enemy of the people.” Yet, the founding fathers of the United States Constitution stated, as Judge Hugo Black explained in the New York Times Co. v. United States Supreme Court case, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” The press serves the people because the people, and only the people, give the president the power to rule. A president who doesn’t allow the press to serve the people is a leader who operates outside of the Constitution and therefore is the only true enemy of the people. The absence of a free press, something both Nixon and Trump attempted and attempt to pursue, is the effective elimination of the First Amendment, for a public which is not educated on the actions of the government is a public that is ruled not in democracy but by tyranny.
It is the responsibility of every single journalist to preserve the rights of the people by placing value in accuracy and ethics above all else. In “The Post,” Daniel Ellsberg and two newspaper companies refused to simply ignore the truth that millions of young lives were being pointlessly squandered in Vietnam. His action, along with that of the New York Times and the Washington Post, granted the public a platform by which to speak out and solidify the role of journalism in democracy. If all journalists continue to strive for absolute truth in reporting and the public can place its faith in legitimate sources of news, society will take the side of the First Amendment in the current “rough draft of history”, so to say, and avoid the catastrophe that can be allowed to happen without it.
This story was written in collaboration with another editor and was my first time working with another staff member on any of my pieces. When we began to conduct interviews and gather information for this piece, we found that the victim of this terrible accident was not defeated, but resilient, and that his actions demonstrated his powerful determination to recover as well as a profound new outlook on life. Writing this story was also a valuable experience in news gathering because we needed to contact Sam Strauss when the time was appropriate with his treatment. Much of our information was also gathered by contacting Strauss’s friends and family and we were challenged to connect all of what we learned in the story.
“Sam Strong” was published in the second issue of the 2016-2017 Eagle Eye
Imagine hopping into your car late at night after attending a Valor football game, plugging in your aux cord and turning up the volume. You begin to turn. You’re just trying to go home, but all of a sudden everything goes black and you wake up in the hospital the next day, surrounded by your family. You have broken ribs, a broken sternum, bruised lower lungs and severe head trauma.
For senior Sam Strauss, this nightmare became reality. Strauss was struck by a drunk driver on the night of September 23, one week before Homecoming. He woke up in a hospital with his injuries and a big recovery ahead of him.
Many think that getting in a serious accident will never happen to them, but according to the National Highway Traffic Administration, “every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash.” Those two minutes changed Strauss’s perspective of the life he used to know – forever.
“Life is too short. You’ve got to make the most of it before something crazy or bad happens to you,” Strauss said. “You have no idea what will happen at any moment.”
There are a lot of factors that can change someone’s life. Strauss is only 17-years-old and has already experienced a life-altering event before a majority of his peers. Some people could live life without ever experiencing a sudden change like he has.
“My life has changed a lot especially with the fact that I need to sleep a lot, I can’t drive, and found that a lot of people care for me that I didn’t know about,” Strauss said. “It has changed because I need a lot of rest to heal, and my car got wrecked, [but] I don’t think I am 100% ready to drive yet anyway.”
After an event like Strauss experienced, he could have been permanently injured, but he has gotten away without any long-lasting injuries.
“My daily routine includes getting a ton of sleep to help me recover faster, working out to improve mood and strength and hanging with friends to have more social interactions,” Strauss said.
Doctors predicted Strauss’s recovery would fall between nine and 18 months with severe head trauma. Two months later, Strauss is out of the hospital and back at school. The biggest factor in his speedy recovery was the support he received from the school, his family and friends. One of his closest friends, senior Thomas Johnson, designed and sold wristbands during Homecoming week with the words “Sam Strong” on them to raise money for his medical costs.
“When I found out that Sam was hurt I thought I was going to lose one of my closest friends and I was really worried and very emotional,” Johnson said. “What inspired me to help out so much was I knew the medical bills were going to be high and [I wanted Sam’s family to know] that our community has their back.”
Students from school also created and signed a get-well poster for Strauss, donated money during miracle minutes and took to social media to show support for the Strauss family.
“Without the support I wouldn’t have recovered as fast as I did,” Strauss said. “Then finding out my close friends were doing all those things during homecoming week for me was just mind-blowing, and the amount of support it got was even more crazy. I love Vista.”
When thinking about how Strauss got hit by a drunk driver, many might be disturbed by the severity of the accident. Strauss is more focused on the future and his recovery rather than reminiscing on the past.
“I slowly got back into things for school, so I didn’t get overwhelmed,” Strauss said. “I got the work for 3 of my classes and returned to school on November 14.”
Part of his future is the uncertainty of driving again, but Strauss has no hesitations about getting back behind the wheel after his life took the turn it did.
“I do want to drive again, I’m not scared too. It sounds a bit crazy, but I like driving and I feel more comfortable to since the accident wasn’t my fault,” Strauss said, “car accidents happen a lot and you gotta realize that if you aren’t responsible with [drinking] and then go drive you can put others in serious danger.”
Now that Strauss has recovered from the accident, he has had the chance to reflect on the impact that it had on his life.
“I was happy I was alive, because the accident was super crazy and I heard from many doctors and nurses how lucky I am to not be crippled or dead. I am grateful,” Strauss said.
Super K Saves the Day
For the most recent issue of the Eagle Eye, we published a special issue in preparation for the upcoming Wish Week. In our feature section, we decided to review past Wish Weeks and their impact on the school, as well as the stories of individual teachers and students that make a big difference in the event every year. I wrote about Brian Wood, a math teacher and basketball coach at the school who was always involved in the assemblies and fundraisers throughout the week. The final copy was published in issue three of the Eagle Eye.
This photo was taken by Conner Davis and appeared in a package with my story to provide context for the introduction.
If there is one word that math teacher, Brian wood would use to describe his emotions in the photo above, it would be excitement. This moment came after Vista’s 2017 Wish Kid, Kenyan, took on his secret-superhero identity of Super K and defeated villains, who had attempted to control the school, with one big punch.
“I was trying to get him to not be so nervous in front of everybody and show his muscles,” Wood said.
In order to grant Kenyan’s wish, to be a superhero, performing arts students donned villainous garb and put on a production. Principal Mike Weaver was taken hostage by Vista graduates Amelia Amicarella and Mark Twal as well as junior Nate Cushing and senior Val Urquhart, who proceeded to take over the school and leave it in dire straits that only a true hero could overcome. It was then, that Kenyan revealed his secret to save the school at the closing assembly, complete with fog machines, spotlights and other special effects, he demonstrated his powers and dominated the evil tricksters.
The school celebrated Super K’s victory and he spent the remainder of the day traveling throughout Vista as well as Mountain Ridge Middle School with Wood, the entourage of student leadership and staff to support him.
When the smoke settled and Kenyan’s visit was over, a national-record total of $127,000 was raised for the Wish Kid and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The sum originated from the student body, parents, sponsors and all of Vista’s feeder schools. Together, they were able to grant 14 wishes on top of Kenyan’s. Kenyan was sent to Disney World to meet other superheros using the funds raised by the community. Wood was with Student Leadership Adviser, Lindsey Jaffe and the rest of the student government when he heard the total.
“It seemed like we were going to beat the year before, the week seemed bigger but you never really know that, so that was an insane amount of money,” Wood said. “I started doing the math of how much money that would be per person and starting thinking about how much of the big donations they must have gotten from companies and donors.”
Wood credits the massive success of the week to the work ethic and dedication of Student Leadership throughout the year. The group began searching for sponsors during summer and met one week before school started, to begin planning for which day of the week, each restaurant or fundraiser sponsor would be delegated to.
“I got to see them in August and they are already working on Wish Week,” Wood said. “We had cool stuff before Jaffe took over leadership but it wasn’t like it is now. We obviously have great kids, they put in a hell-of-a-lot of work.”
Wood is basketball coach and has taught math classes at the school for 10 years, six of which have included Wish Week. Jaidyn was the first Wish Kid to come to Vista in 2013, followed by Dakota, Asher, Marlee and Kenyan. Wood was involved in the assemblies during Dakota’s week but became more invested in the whole process when Asher came to the school. One path that his involvement took was as a judge for the Wish Week talent show, Vista Idol.
“I think that was kind of when all of us realized what a big deal it could be,” Wood said. I think personally that I love kids and I think kids usually feel fairly comfortable around me.”
Unfortunately, he has been unable to participate in the show since Asher’s year due to the scheduling of his team’s basketball games on the same night.
The influence Wish Week has on the hearts and minds of students strikes a chord with Wood because of the opportunity it provides for them to contribute to a meaningful cause and understand the struggle of the children that the school takes under its wing.
“I think the biggest reason that [Wish Week] is important to me is, we live in a place where most people have most of the things they need and I think it’s important in some way for kids to get a chance to put something above them and see someone who struggles and kind of get outside the bubble for a minute,” Wood said.
It’s often during the week that students, the youngest class specifically, receive and take advantage of the opportunity to become more involved in Vista’s events and school spirit.
“I think a lot of times with freshmen it’s the week when they finally immerse themselves in Mountain Vista,” Wood said.
Outside of the fact that the special week enables students to gain a new perspective on their community and appreciate their good fortune, Wood supports Wish Week because of his strong, personal connection to the children that are adopted by the school. A father of two, ages seven and four, he has all the more reason to appreciate the impact the week has on every kid.
“I was the person who never cried at a movie or anything until I had kids and now I cry at commercials and stuff,” Wood said. “Just seeing these kids it’s hard. Gabby is just a little bit older than my daughter, Carly so to see that and then to see what we are going to be able to do and the whole the purpose of a wish is just to take the grind and the stress of what they are going through away for a day.”
Wood will continue his involvement in the upcoming Wish Week, by helping to run the assemblies as well as walk Gabby around the school. He will also be seen as a referee in the Ruff ‘n Tuff volleyball competition.
“[Wish Week] is one of the main reasons I want to be here,” Wood said. “It’s my favorite week of the year. It makes me sad and happy all at the same time.”
Further examples of writing can be found throughout my portfolio.