Stories You Can Do At Your School
1. Go to your local health district and get copies of the health inspection reports of your school cafeteria for the past few years. While you’re at it, you might want to check the inspection reports for students’ favorite hangouts.
2. Take a look at your senior class. How many students were in it when they all started ninth grade? How many are in it now? If it’s like most schools, the size of the class has shrunk. Where did they all go?
3. Talk to students who weren’t born in the United States. Tell their stories. There’s so much misinformation and misunderstanding floating around about immigrants that it’s important to write stories that bring the issue to life.
4. Let’s talk cell phones. If they’re banned at your school, what do students, parents and teachers think of the prohibition? There are strong arguments for allowing phones as well as reasons to keep them out. Whatever side your school has chosen to come down on, find the many people who disagree. But get both sides.
5. It’s traditional, but always appropriate: Do a feature on that quirky teacher, custodian, lunch worker or administrator. Every school had its oddballs. They’re usually good stories.
6. Ready for a hard one? There’s probably a kid from your school who killed himself or died in some senseless accident in the not too distant past. Go talk to the kid’s family and friends about what happened and why. Make that awful death into a lesson that might keep other students alive.
7. There are high school age students in your community whose families have chosen to home school them. Find those kids – the web is wonderful for tracking them down – and talk to them about their very different teenage experiences.
8. In our region, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accredits high schools that have to meet certain standards. Even the best high schools worry about meeting increasingly tough standards. Find the last report and see when inspection teams are coming back. What’s your school doing to get ready?
9. Since Columbine, for understandable reasons, schools have had to prepare for the possibility that violence could strike home. What’s the plan at your school? Do students and teachers know what to do? Is the security meaningful or a joke? Do students worry about it?
10. Another tough one: Talk to minority students at your school and find out whether they think that all students are getting a fair shake. And take a look at whatever statistics you can find (the Freedom of Information Act can be your friend here) to see if minorities are more likely to be suspended or expelled.
11. On a similar note, take a look at the most advanced classes in your school. Are they balanced in terms of boys and girls? Are minorities taking them at the same rate as others? If it’s out of whack, what’s the reason? Ask teachers and administrators to explain. And then ask the students who aren’t there how come they’re in slower classes.
12. Look around for expensive equipment that nobody uses. There’s little that gets people more upset than money squandered on stuff that sits idle.
13. Are teachers able to buy the supplies they need? In too many districts, teachers have dip into their own bank accounts to get the supplies they need to do their jobs. Is your school making sure that doesn’t have to happen?
14. They say young people are keen to protect the environment. But if that’s true, how come so many of them are driving to school every day? A story that figures out how much gas is used by students at your school who don’t want to take the bus or walk would be fascinating.
15. What are they feeding you? Take a day’s meal and find out exactly what the cafeteria served and where the stuff comes from that they use. Is anybody interested in using free range chickens or grass-fed cattle? Or are you eating animals that never saw the light of day?
16. On the same vein, does the cafeteria have stuff for vegetarians and vegans to eat? If they do, is it the same stuff every day or is there an effort to vary the meals offered? How many kids buy them?
17. All over America, politicians are keen to see students tested to make sure they’re learning whatever it is they’re supposed to master. We can never have enough stories from the front lines. What does it mean in the classrooms? What do students think of the mania for tests? Are the tests helping education or undermining it? Let the experts, the ones right there in the classrooms, have their say in as many different ways as possible.
18. Does your Student Council do anything at all? Does it have any real power over anything or is it just for show? A story detailing who’s on it and what they do might be fascinating. In the same vein, some districts have student reps on the school board. Do they accomplish anything?
19. How about a story that details everything students aren’t allowed to do at your school? From listening to iPods to wearing a hat, school administrators keep adding more and more things to the list of what’s banned. A story that lays out all the different prohibitions and the alleged reasons for each would be fascinating.
20. What are the rules at your school for search and seizure of your stuff? When can school officials poke through your locker? Can they peer into your backpack? Do they actually search for prohibited items? What do students think of the rules?
21. The prom just keeps getting bigger. How much money is spent on it at your school? There are many approaches you could take, but try to come up with a ballpark figure for how much is spent on the whole thing, with all the clothes, flowers, cars, music, hall rental, etc. It might be a shockingly high figure.
22. What classes are NOT offered at your school that students would like to have? Are there AP courses that should be available? What languages are taught and should there be more? What classes were offered 25 years ago that are gone now? What happened to them? On the other hand, what’s available, but useless?
23. Who’s worked at the school for the longest time? What kind of changes have they seen over the years? It’s a tried and true feature story or profile piece.
24. There’s a lot of concern among politicians that myspace and facebook are making it possible for young people to expose too much online. Is it true? Find out what’s on the sites that students at your school have – and ask the students who have them why they put all that information online.
25. Teens are citizens, too, so any issue that matters to society as a whole, from Iraq to Social Security, matters to young people as well. It’s always fine to get student reactions to the news that everybody is talking about.
26. Just to see what you might find – a fishing expedition, in journalistic terms, ask under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of all the notices, memorandums or other written notices that your principal or assistant principals have sent to the staff in the past year. You might be surprised at some of the stuff they put in writing.
27. Which student has the worst part-time job in the school? Who’s working the longest, dirtiest, smelliest, ickiest job to earn a few extra bucks before graduation? There are, no doubt, some terrific contenders for this. Don’t hesitate to write about runners-up, too.