In order to accurately report on any event or story happening in a community, a journalist must collect all of the facts and encompass every aspect of a story. This is done by conducting many different interviews in order to add depth to a story and gathering factual information from credible sources so as to ensure that every detail is shared with the audience and a full report is created.

The news gathering process is especially vital in the modern age, a time when misleading news is on the rise and the public has been increasingly reluctant to trust some news sources. If the process is done properly, even if it is only at the high school level, journalists can ensure that they are providing the public with stories, both human and reliable, that they can rely on.

Students Get a Look at the Eclipse

2017 provided an extremely unique opportunity for coverage with the August total solar eclipse, and a science teacher at my school organized a field trip to Wyoming for students to view the solar phenomenon in totality. Although not enthusiastic to miss school, I knew that joining this trip would be a unique and enriching journalistic experience to actually follow a story outside of my community and into a different state. I shot photos of students and teachers viewing the eclipse in Colorado’s neighbor state as well as gathered content from student viewing back at the high school. I conducted an interview with the teacher who arranged the trip the following day and combined the content gathered into this story, which mainly focused on the out-of-state trip. In order to encompass more of the story and focus on students specifically in Colorado on that day, I guided a staff member in writing a story about students who viewed the eclipse from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. This story was posted here on our website.
In March of 1979, the Moon passed in front of the Sun and caused a total solar eclipse that could be viewed in the United States. 38 years later, the same phenomenon occurred and could be viewed on a path that threw many states into shadow, including a few bordering Colorado. This most recent total solar eclipse, which took place on Monday, was the first opportunity for students at Vista to witness the astronomical event in their lifetime.

The closest states to Highlands Ranch where complete totality could be viewed were Wyoming and Nebraska, so many students travelled out of the state to experience the eclipse at its full potential. While some travelled individually with their families, others opted to sign up for a spot on a charter bus to Wheatland, Wyoming, a city on the edge of the path of totality of the eclipse. The field trip was arranged by science teacher Jason Cochrane and left the school at 5:00 a.m. the morning of the eclipse with 55 students.

“I kept watching and reading more and more about the path of totality and every single thing I read kept talking about how it is a 100 percent different experience in totality than anywhere else,” Cochrane said. “There were just so many ways people were describing it that I wanted to see it for myself.”

Organizing the trip was not an easy task however, due to the fact that Arrow, the charter bus company Cochrane contacted, did not have any vehicles available initially due to the massive crowds of people flocking to witness the eclipse. Luckily the company was able to release a bus and, after sorting out the issue of meeting time constraints for the driver, the trip was completed successfully.

Not all students chose to leave Colorado to view the phenomenon. Rather, they stayed at the school or moved a short distance to Denver, where the eclipse could be seen at 92 percent totality. One group of students visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with science teacher Kelly Click, while others simply remained at school to view the cosmic process.

Regardless of what location students chose to admire the eclipse, many were left in awe of the sight.

“It was the absolute best two minutes and 30 seconds,” junior Natalie Horn, who viewed the event from Casper, Wyo., said. “I have always been super interested in anything to do with the cosmos so I was very excited for this.”

The next time students will have the opportunity to view this event will be in the year 2024, when the path of totality will include Highlands Ranch.

The Best Test

As a journalist, it is important for me not only to focus on individual students but also issues and news that affect their education and daily lives. At the Capitol Hill Press Conference, organized by the Colorado Student Media Association, I had the opportunity to discuss many different aspects of education with state leaders and felt the need to share specific information about the upcoming state transition from the ACT test to the SAT test due to the fact that it directly impacted students at Vista. I worked with another editor to gather the facts and write the following report, which was published the Vista Now website. The goal of this report was to provide students at the school with a better understanding of the reason for the change and its impact on them.

In 2001, The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) made the decision to delegate the ACT as the state college entrance exam. Law required every junior in Colorado have the opportunity to complete the exam and high school students invested time and money in preparing for the test that would have a large impact on their acceptance into a college.

That is, until 2016 when the CDE made the decision to switch the exam to the College Board’s SAT in order to align more closely with state and national academic standards.

“We brought together a committee that consisted of a broad variety of education professionals and they reviewed those two proposals and heard presentations from both of those companies,” Dr. Will Morton, Director of Assessment Administration at the CDE, said during the annual Colorado Student Media Association Capitol Hill Press Conference. “They made the recommendation to make the shift [to the SAT].”

For students who had been preparing for the 2016 ACT test for many months, this deviation was unwelcome. Parents who had spent money to enroll their student in test-prep classes were frustrated that any information learned as a result would contain no value on the SAT.

As a result of  backlash from the school communities, school boards appealed to the commission for the switch to be made for the class of 2018 rather than the previously intended 2017. This decision allowed for the class of 2018 to take the PSAT and begin preparation for the state SAT the following spring.

In order to help students study for the SAT, the College Board began to offer free resources through their partnership with the non-profit educational resource organization Khan Academy. By offering these resources to students from low-income families, College Board could ensure that all students could adequately prepare for the SAT.

Due to the College Board’s role in the standardized testing, the SAT has created a forum for students that offers consistent feedback across all of the subject based assessments, helping students stay on course. It also supports teachers as they adjust their instruction for students who are either ahead or behind before they are required to take the physical test.

As for the argument that one test may give students more of an advantage, there is no significant evidence that the SAT holds sway over the ACT or vice versa. The benefits are on the state level over the individual students.

“Since it’s a choice you can make, it has the feeling of being a significant choice, fraught with implication, but I don’t think it does matter,” McGrath-Lewis, director of admissions at Harvard College, told the New York Times in a 2007 interview debating the ACT and the SAT. “Either is fine with us, and we don’t have a feeling that either favors students with any particular profile.”

This April will mark the transition from the ACT to the SAT, and although students are required to try their luck at the state entrance exam, they will continue to have the opportunity to take part in the ACT if they wish to take both sets of scores into applying for college.

Deputy Parrish’s Connection to the School

Before students returned to school from Winter Break, a police officer was shot and killed in an ambush on authorities during a disturbance call. In the days following the tragedy, I discovered that the wife of the fallen officer, Grace Moehlenpah, graduated from Mountain Vista and began writing a story to share the information with the school community. To gather all of my information, I interviewed a former teacher of Moehlenpah’s, the School Resource Officer  and a student who is the daughter of a police officer. In addition, I gathered facts online from credible sources such as the Denver Post and 9 News. Due to the fact that the investigation of the shooting was in progress while I was writing this report, it was vital that I verified my information regarding the event so as not to present any false or misleading facts.

Early on the morning of New Year’s Eve, police officers responded to a disturbance at a Highlands Ranch apartment complex. During the subsequent events, five officers were wounded, one fatally shot, by a suspect experiencing a mental crisis.

The life of Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, was claimed in the attack on authorities that morning.

Parrish was sworn in as a member of the Castle Rock Police Department in 2015 by Chief Jack Cauley, where he served for more than two years before moving to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in order to be closer to his family.

“He had a smile. A firm handshake,” Cauley told The Denver Post. “I could tell by his presence and see in his eyes he was excited to be here.”

Officer Parrish’s life was honored in a candle light vigil on January 1 as well as during a funeral service open to the general public on January 5. A procession of first responders and law enforcement transported his casket to Cherry Hills Community Church for the service, where thousands of people viewed the ceremony. A few pf these moments of reflection on the first responder’s life carried especially profound meaning for viewers.

“What really got to me [at the funeral] was the military aspect of it. Instead of a 21 gun salute, they had a 21 rings of the bell, that was pretty powerful,” Deputy Vance Fleet, School Resource Officer for Mountain Vista and member of the procession for the service, said. “They had a live [dispatcher] get on there and they called out his call sign, and they called it three times and of course he is not answering and then they just say ‘Deputy Parrish rest in peace, end of watch’ and they give the date and time and all of that.”

The 21-bell salute is often used as a substitute for the firing party at the memorial of a fallen member of law enforcement.

The officer is survived by two daughters and his wife, Grace Moehlenpah, who spoke about her husband at the vigil. Moehlenpah wore his badge and was supported by her daughter, who commanded her mother to “be happy.”

“I thought it was really sad that the little girl kind of was aware a little of what was going on but still trying to help her mom get through it,” senior Hannah Tucker said.

Moehlenpah graduated from Mountain Vista in 2006, and was co-host of the student-run Vista Vision television show. Staff members who have worked at the school for a long enough period of time recall Moehlenpah as an intelligent and kind student.

“She is still, to this day, one of my favorite students. She is just an awesome, awesome human being,” English teacher Jake Sabot said. “She was one of those students who brought the level of the class up just by being there.”

Sabot heard the news of the attack from his sister-in-law, who graduated in the same class as Moehlenpah, through his wife. His first reaction, unaware of the specifics of the case, was that the wife of Officer Parrish was actually one of the people in the apartment where the shooting took place. Sabot’s connection to Deputy Parrish’s wife magnified the impact of the true events of December 31

“Once I had found out what really happened, it was just devastating. The thought of that happening to a person like her, I can’t even fathom how awful that is,” Sabot said. “Knowing that the person that Grace ended up with has got to be equally as amazing as she is and to think about the pain that she must be going through and having to explain to her children that daddy’s gone and he is not coming back just tore me apart.”

Deputy Parrish’s family as well as first responders in general received a mass outpouring of support and appreciation from the community following the tragedy. On his way into Mountain Ridge Middle School for a workout, Officer Fleet was surprised by chalk drawings on the school sidewalk honoring those with “blue blood” and expressing appreciation for their service. Fleet explained that he hopes the events that transpired over break help students in realizing that officers are working to help the community.

A GoFundMe page was set up in order to support Moehlenpah and her daughters. So far, $336,111 has been raised out of the page goal of $350,000.

“Just realize that the Sheriff’s Office is out there to protect our community, that’s what we do,” Fleet said. “It has been amazing how much of the community has come forward.”

Chronological Coverage

The purpose of our yearbook is to tell the story of the school year from the perspective of as many students and aspects of the building as possible. This storytelling takes place in the chronological section of our yearbook, which consists of one spread for every week in the year. In a school of more than 2,000 students, organizing the fair coverage of each resulting club, activity and academic department is a challenge. On top of that, it is vital that content from every club makes it into the chronological portion of our yearbook,  and our process of doing so is carefully measured in terms of the level of activity of each group and the scale of events they organize. We accomplished the collection of content on such a large scale with many organizational tools.

At the beginning of the year, we assigned a sports, club and academic beat to each member of the staff. Each person was not restricted to these beats, and we encouraged them to gather content about any story they followed, but they were responsible for writing stories about their assignments for the chronological pages.

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In order to help organize both the editors and the staff regarding arrangement of beats in the program, members filled out this sheet for each of their academic departments and clubs. We always stressed the importance to the staff of building a connection with sources as a journalist, so this page served as a tool for them to guide a face-to-face conversation and get to know the group of people they would be covering for the year. Using this information, we could also plan ahead for making space in the chronological for big events.

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To lay out our coverage of the year in a visual format and narrow down which story ideas would be placed on each week, we used online Trello boards like the one shown above. Every story idea for each week was added to the board, and staff members and editors claimed the assignments as they came along. Most importantly, Trello helped us to visualize the diversity of content throughout the each section and look at the big picture of the yearbook. Periodically, I inventoried our content by determining which groups had not received adequate coverage in our yearbook pages to ensure that we were accurately sharing the story of Vista with every aspect of the school rather than the most popular or select groups.IMG-1603

This is an example of one of my most recent checks, during which I compared our clubs and activities master list to the cards on our Trello board to determine what was missing. These clubs lacked coverage in the first semester of our chronological pages, so I required that the staff members assigned to these beats submit coverage for the yearbook within two weeks of the inventory.

More examples of News Gathering can be found throughout my portfolio, especially in the web section.

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