Former PR professional helps students publish first Stallionaire paper in four years
This semester marks a new era for F.L. Schlagle High School in Kansas City where journalism students last month distributed the school’s first printed newspaper in four years.
Teacher Keith Jones advises both the newspaper —The Stallionaire— and the yearbook. Jones began rebuilding the journalism program last year at the urban school after a four-year dormancy.
Jones, a former businessperson with a background in public relations and marketing, changed careers and began teaching part-time at Schlagle a few years ago through a mentor program he started at Sumner Academy, also in KCK.
“The whole time I was working in corporate America, I had a not-for-profit I started that was around mentoring minority males,” Jones said. “I was in a high school doing this male-mentoring program, and that’s how I fell into the school system.”
The program Jones founded helped these young men prepare for college and the professional world, allowing more than 90 percent of its graduates go to college. After working as a mentor, Jones became involved in the Fellows Program, which takes business professionals and allows them to get their teaching license.
Once Jones began teaching full-time at Schlagle in August 2008, he realized there was a lot of work to be done within the journalism program.
“I did know it was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t know there was no curriculum or no money,” Jones said. “I felt like I was walking into situation where I was set up to fail.”
Jones also realized he’d need to teach the students basic journalistic skills.
“They have to learn the craft and we’re starting from ground zero,” Jones said. “I have to do a lot of teaching, but if they’re willing to learn than we can use their strong points and go from there.”
Motivating his students continues to be a major challenge for Jones.
“I teach maybe 75 percent life skills and 25 percent journalism, because before you can get to journalism you have to find out why that kid has a bad attitude,” Jones said.
“That kid probably got abused the night before, that kid can’t read or write and that’s why they’re being a problem child. They’re not thinking about writing a lead sentence or learning grammar, its stupid to them. You have to show them why learning journalism is important, and how they can use it in their everyday life. That takes a whole different perspective of teaching.”
Jones has found that teaching the students at Schlagle expands outside the classroom and outside of journalism.
“In urban school districts, you have to meet the kids where they’re at, and you have to go that extra mile,” he said. “I have a personal relationship with all of my kids, whether it’s giving them lunch money or rides home or watching their volleyball games.”
At the end of his first year at Schlagle, Jones and his yearbook staff printed a book for the first time in four years because of a donation received from their annual student exchange.
“I thought it was kind of sad. When I was in school, your mom just gave you money for the yearbook and you would trade and sign,” Jones said. “I have a yearbook for every year I was in school.”
Once the book was published and ready to sell, Jones could not charge more than $25 or $30 because he said students would not pay any more than that. There was not a printed newspaper last year because of monetary setbacks, so the newspaper printed their stories online with the help of the American Society of Newspaper Editors hosting service.
Jones began his second year at Schlagle this fall with a strategy on how to make the program successful.
“I probably used scare tactics the first two weeks, kind of laying down the law and saying it entails work-nights, getting ads, and entails work,” he said.
Jones also wanted his class to be filled with students who are willing to work, so he created an application process. Jones has also made an effort to give his program a good reputation throughout the school.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried to make it cool to be a part of yearbook,” Jones said. “We do little fundraisers like selling doughnuts in the morning; we do different things to get our name out.”
The recent successes of the yearbook and newspaper prove that Jones’s professional background and his willingness to push his students have paid off.
“This has been a unique challenge for me, because I was in PR, and I had never put a yearbook together, so this was a lot of learning for me, too. We have been somewhat successful thus far, and I think the kids are enjoying it, and I think they should be proud.”