During a time when the press and media are needed most, Fairmont High School has decided to cut its student newspaper.
The Flyer operates as a year-long class, but in a matter of weeks, it will no longer exist. With the plan to cut this course, Fairmont will start the 2019-20 school year without a student publication for the first time since the early 80s.
According to the Student Press Law Center, 2019 is the year of the student journalist. This year is dedicated to raise awareness about the important role of student journalists, the struggles they face, and the need for state-based legislation to protect First Amendment Rights of student journalists and their adviser, and to validate the importance of journalism education.
“Few people understand the important contributions that journalism education makes to civic life,” their site states.
The Flyer began in the mid 1980s when Fairmont East and Fairmont West combined. The print issue existed until 2009 when the publication made the decision to go to an online format.
Former Flyer adviser Janie Ross managed the publication for 16 years. She also worked in the field as a journalist for 12 years prior to teaching.
“In the early years of my tenure, we needed two periods to accommodate all the students who wanted to be on The Flyer,” Ross said. “The Flyer started to get edged out of students’ schedules because Fairmont continued to add so many other opportunities.”
Regardless of numbers in her class, Ross saw the impact that Flyer had on her students at Fairmont and even post-high school in their careers and lives.
“The students on a newspaper learn so much about the world, their community, and themselves through hands-on journalism work,” Ross said. “I believe that what students learn on-the-job in The Flyer makes them lifelong learners and better citizens, which we need more than ever these days.”
With an increase in elective offerings and the growth of business courses, Career Tech programs and AP/IB diploma paths, students just don’t have room in their schedules.
Current Flyer adviser Lacy Drake has seen the conflict in students when trying to build their schedules. Likewise, the frustration in fellow teachers who offer elective courses but struggle to maintain numbers.
“There are just too many options, so naturally we are going to see a decline in numbers and some elective courses are going to struggle,” Drake said.
Some classes at Fairmont have rosters of less than 10 students, usually IB courses.
“Comparing Flyer to an IB class with four students is like comparing apples and oranges,” Fairmont High School Principal Tyler Alexander said.
Alexander said he treats all courses equal when looking at the master schedule each year.
“Not every teacher gets to teach what they want,” he said. “If they want to do it after school or as an extracurricular class than that could work here.”
Construction will soon begin on a new CTC building, bringing new programs to Fairmont yet again. CTC programs typically encompass 2-3 periods of students’ schedule.
“I was and still am very impressed by the Career Tech opportunities available to students. But the multi-year, multi-period programs took a lot of the ‘wiggle room’ out of students’ schedules,” Ross said.
“I understand that having low numbers is not ideal and certainly things change within a school, but I also believe in brainstorming ideas and advocating for courses that are important in our society,” Drake said. “A student publication teaches so much more than just writing and how to use a fancy camera.”
When Ross retired in the spring of 2015, she knew that it would be tough to maintain numbers, let alone grow a student-publication.
“I just think it’s incredibly sad. The world won’t stop turning because Fairmont no longer has a school newspaper, but it’s a loss just the same. The people I’m saddest for are the students who will never get the chance to experience student journalism and discover how it can expand their world,” Ross said.
The Flyer staff recently attended The Ohio Scholastic Media Conference at Kent State University where they won 28 awards in both writing and photography. In previous years, The Flyer has achieved and or exceeded more than 40 awards per year.
“While we have a small staff, they work extremely hard and continue to learn and understand the importance of their voices and their power as a student journalist,” Drake said. “I have a couple of students studying journalism and photography next year in college.”
Alexander made the final decision to cut The Flyer for next school year.
“Only five kids signed up for next year,” he said. “We have to be respectful of taxpayers money.”
With The Flyer being cut, Fairmont will no longer have it’s coveted Senior Issue or Senior Superlatives (the class of 2019 will be the last issue). There will also be less student photographers on campus available to shoot events as well as less opportunity to get the community involved through sponsors and advertisements.
Ross and Drake both commented on the tough and important topics that the student-journalists in Flyer would cover.
“We tackled some of the issues most important to teens and the school community. Along with many light-hearted topics, we’ve delved into depression, stress, suicide, disabilities, teen pregnancy and parenthood, sex education, school shootings and safety, cutting, cultural changes and differences, homelessness, generational divides, race and gender issues, the realities of college life, war, death, and economic challenges. We even covered the 9/11 attacks from a Fairmont perspective. Who is going to do those kinds of things going forward?” Ross asked.
The mission of The Flyer has always been to inform and entertain and to provide a voice for the student body.
“We started bringing back the hard-copy print issue this year,” Drake said. “The feedback was incredible and so many people were asking to buy a subscription for next year.”
There is a possibility that The Flyer will be offered as an after-school club for all students interested in joining. More information will be released soon when a decision is made.
“It makes me sad to think of Fairmont High School without The Flyer,” Drake said. “I was on staff during my high school career. The student body will certainly feel this loss. Maybe not right away, but this change is huge and will have a lasting impact on our school.”