Bridging the Gap
Freedom of speech. Kids learn about it in school, they know it's an inalienable right to all citizens of the United States. But are they prepared to fully exercise it? What outlets are available to them in terms of personal expression?
Lindsey Widener, journalism teacher at Bluffton High School, took it upon herself to see that free speech got a new pair of shoes. Remembering how much she enjoyed being on the school paper and yearbook staff when she was in high school, she engineered a bona-fide journalism program at Bluffton High, including an Intro to Journalism course and a new school paper, Cat Chat, that she and the kids started from scratch.
"I think it's so important to have journalism," said Lindsey, who majored in English and at one time dreamed of writing for newspapers and magazines. "The kids need to know that their voice makes a difference, and without a school newspaper, there's no way for them to get their message out."
Cat Chat has already become a favorite with kids, who love to peruse the color photos and articles about a wide range of topics: spotlights on teachers and students, features on health and school sports, editorials, messages from the principal and world news items. Regardless of whether or not they work directly on the paper, students are encouraged to get involved by writing in or submitting a drawing. As Lindsey points out, the school is only five years old and does not have long standing traditions or culture; it's up to the people there now to create that sense of community for Bluffton High.
"I think doing the paper has really helped the kids understand the need for their involvement," Lindsey said. "It bridges the gap of communication and gets them to know more about their school besides just the academic side."
Last year, in addition to starting Cat Chat, teaching the intro course, and leading the yearbook staff, Lindsey was also completing graduate work in administration and planning her wedding to Joe Skirtich, a math teacher at Bluffton High. (They tied the knot last month-congratulations!) Suffice it to say that after such a hectic schedule, she's ready to cool her jets a bit and start building upon the solid foundations she's created for the journalism program. She might also spend some time tacking up more Pink Magazine covers, which she has collected since 2006 and hung all over her classroom walls to inspire students.
"A lot of them got so angry the first time they saw someone throw the [school] paper away," said Lindsey. "I told them, you have to understand that not everyone wants to hear what you have to say. But if you can impact one person-maybe get the word out to someone who has an eating disorder and needs help, someone who wants to workout, but doesn't know where to start, or even kids who don't watch the news and don't know what's going on in the world-then you will see why you are writing for the paper."
Hometown: Ravenna, OH
Came to the Lowcountry: Five years ago
Hobbies: running, working out
Pets: two wiener dogs, Blue and Gracie, and cat Rudy
How she met her husband: working on Put-in-Bay Island, Lake Erie, Ohio
Where they went on their honeymoon: Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to sail and hang out at a resort
What she's into right now: relaxing and taking deep breaths
Guilty pleasures: red wine and dark chocolate (together) and frosting off cake-for her birthday students brought her cans of frosting because they know she wouldn't eat the cake anyway
Cat Chat memorable moment: an April Fools' Day prank issue bearing the bold headline PROM CANCELLED, which caused quite an uproar and even appeared in the Savannah Morning News