Bear River’s budding journalists learn the power of the press | TheUnion.com

Bear River’s budding journalists learn the power of the press

Last year, Bear River High student Josh Howser was placed in the school's journalism class by default, when he opted against an art elective.

That was the start of what Howser calls "a wild ride," and a change in focus for a kid who, by his own admission, never considered journalism as any sort of profession.

Howser is now a second-year journalism student and the executive editor of the school's newspaper, The Current.

"It's crazy to me, because of this class, how much things have changed," he said. "Before this, I didn't know what I wanted to study. I realized this was something I could do for the rest of my life."

Howser now is looking at the journalism programs at University of Nevada Reno and CSU Sacramento, he said.

"I could never get tired of putting my stories out there, with my name on it," he said. "You really do change the world with your words. It's a really good feeling."

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Credit for Bear River's revamped, updated and re-energized journalism program goes to second-year teacher Christina Levinson.

"When I was hired, all that was left of the shelved journalism program was a stack of dusty, yellowed newspapers," Levinson said,

"It was a failing program," Howser said. "There was a paper that came out two or three times a week that no one read. (Levinson) re-started everything."

Levinson worked at the Sacramento Bee for nearly 10 years before taking a buyout and raising a family.

After her youngest started preschool, she was hired by Bear River to teach yearbook, video and freshman tech. Journalism was bundled in with yearbook, but then was split off into its own class.

"They knew journalism was my wheelhouse," Levinson said. "That's my background, that's my passion."

Starting from scratch

Levinson decided to do away with the print version of The Current, calling it a dinosaur. Now it is digital only, "as professional as we can make it," she said.

"The kids knew nothing when they got shoved into my class," Levinson said. "It blossomed and turned into something super-cool … There is real journalism going on here."

The first week of school that first year, Howser said, Levinson showed the students the website with dummy stories in place.

"She said, 'We're going to fill this with real stories,' and we started putting stories out the first week," he said. "She managed to teach all 20 of us how to write stories correctly. … None of us knew what we were doing — (but) it was a really good experience."

Levinson worked to model the class after real newsrooms, complete with "budget" (a tally of articles being worked on) meetings.

The first year, the 18 students in the class "were shoved into the class, they had no idea what it would be about," she said. "It could have gone badly, but they got super-excited, they liked seeing their work (in) public."

The budding reporters had a daunting task when they covered the death of two fellow students in a vehicle collision.

"We had to do (it) right,"Levinson said. "And they did an amazing job."

This year, Levinson and Howser said, they know what they're doing. The second-year students have taken the lead in mentoring the new reporters, Howser said, tailing them and helping them write their first stories,

"It's a constant learning experience for them, they're really willing to learn," he said.

Making student convention her mission

Levinson said she knows that because a lot of her key staff graduate this year, next year will be a build year.

So it is especially important to her that she find a way to take all of this year's students ­— new and old — to the High School Journalism Convention sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and National Scholastic Press Association.

"When I saw the convention was in San Francisco, it was a magical moment," Levinson said, "It will be the cherry on top of learning about journalism. I feel very compelled to make this happen."

The four-day convention changes locations annually and so this is a rare opportunity for the Nevada County students. Levinson estimated her financial need at $8,820 for 17 students to cover registration, hotel and meals ($20/per day per student). She has launched a fundraising effort via YouCaring that so far has netted just over $1,000.

The journalism students have started a school-based effort as well. This week is "Journalism Madness," a school-wide fundraiser. They will be collecting donations all week, with donor names going into a hat. The culminating event is Friday at lunch when donors are chosen to ice bucket the five student editors. If the students raise at least $100, Levinson gets bucketed too. Every $50 raised after that activates another teacher getting iced.

"Most of our teachers agreed to it, which blew me away," Levinson said. "The kids are really excited and determined to get as many teachers as possible, so it should be fun."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lkellar@theunion.com.

How to help

Crowdfunding link: YouCaring.com/brcurrent

The student news site: BRCurrent.com

If you’d rather just write a check, make checks out to “Bear River High School” and deliver your donation to Christina Levinson (either through Janet Miles in the front office or directly to the Journalism room, C127). You can also mail donations to Bear River High School Journalism, c/o Christina Levinson, 11130 Magnolia Road, Grass Valley, CA 95949

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