Bixby Spartan News Online
Every student hopes to discover a niche in school, that place where they feel comfortable learning and expressing a talent. Some find their niche on the playing field or in the school gym. Others excel in the classroom or on a theater stage. For recent Bixby High School graduate Emily Thornton, the niche was in “Studio B” on the Bixby High Campus where the Bixby Spartan News Online (SPN-Online) is created.
“In eighth grade Mrs. Harris (Dee Harris) came to talk to our English class about newspaper and yearbook, which caught my attention because I had been writing since fourth grade,” Thornton said. “ I loved the idea of the J1 class and signed up freshman year. Once it started, it became my niche — the place I felt comfortable and confident in, the hour I looked forward to every day. Mrs. Harris encouraged me from the beginning and published two of my articles my freshman year.”
Dee Harris, Bixby Public Schools director of communications and journalism and broadcast instructor, worked in the field of journalism and communications for 25 years before becoming an English teacher at Bixby High School. Besides teaching English, Harris oversees the production of the school’s yearbook and student newspaper, Spartan Post News.
In 2011 Harris saw an increased interest by students for multimedia journalism such as broadcast journalism and sports broadcasting. Why not, Harris said, put the Spartan Post News online?
“Students are surfing the Internet all the time,” she said. “By having the paper online, students, parents and faculty can easily access the Spartan Post News to read about school and community news. And journalism students can learn about online broadcasting.”
Harris’s first news staff was comprised of 15 committed students doing many jobs. Today, approximately 90 students are in and out of “Studio B” collaborating and creating the weekly SPN-Online.
Thornton, who is now a freshman at Oklahoma Christian University and majoring in journalism, was one of Harris’s first SPN-Online staff members. “I knew I wanted to be a journalist as soon as my freshman year. I was inspired and filled with a passion that never faded,” she said. “I took newspaper throughout high school along with broadcast my junior year. We broadcasted sports live, and I loved filming football from the top of the stadium. I also made a few videos and practiced photography along with my writing. We were taught the importance of being well-rounded and to have the ability to perform all aspects of journalism.”
Harris said it was tough to see her first group of SPN-Online staff members graduate last spring. “Those students took off with so many ideas and created the groundwork for where SPN-Online is today.”
An awards case in the lobby of Studio B showcases how far SPN-Online has come. Over the past three years SPN-Online has won the Oklahoma Scholastic Media’s (OSM) All-Oklahoma and Charles E. “Colonel” Savedge Sweepstakes Award as the best online high school newspaper in the state of Oklahoma. As for Harris, she was named Bixby High School’s 2015 Teacher of the Year and Oklahoma Scholastic Media 2015 Journalism Teacher of the Year.
Each room in Studio B has a purpose. There is a television broadcast production room, a writing and layout room equipped with new Apple Desktop computers and an “idea room” with a large dry erase board for displaying story ideas. And each room, including Harris’ office, has a comfortable couch and chairs, inviting students to gather to collaborate.
All broadcasting equipment was either acquired through grants or donations. The Bixby Educational Endowment Foundation has been very generous, Harris said, in assisting in the purchasing of Studio B equipment.
“I want Studio B to be more like a 21st century classroom, very open and comfortable,” she said. “The environment promotes students working together on projects, brainstorming and feeling comfortable with trying.”
Students interested in journalism start with a basic Journalism I class. “Students can take this class as an English credit or as an elective,” Harris said. “It is like a ‘buffet line’ of everything from writing news, journalism law and ethics, feature writing, photography and visual media. We touch a little bit on everything.”
Once that class is completed, students can apply to be on the SPN-Online staff. And each student’s talent never goes to waste. Some enjoy being in front of the camera, creating podcasts, online video news clips or reporting. Others prefer to be behind the scenes writing and editing news content and features.
“A newspaper can’t exist with only a few people working hard. There are so many different jobs that need to be done simultaneously that every student in the classroom will have their responsibilities to complete according to their preference and what they can handle,” said Thornton, who was SPN-Online editor-in-chief both her junior and senior years.
“While everyone wants to work for the paper, one student may be able to write coffee reviews while another can cover sports, and another take amazing photography,” she said. “You learn to be reliable for others, and to trust others; it goes hand-in-hand. Many students are still finding out what they are capable of, and it’s important to encourage each other to try new things. Without a connected staff, it can become chaos. Luckily, every year we all seemed to naturally become a family.”
SPN-Online newspaper content includes student, school and community news, sports, arts and entertainment and opinion. SPN-TV offers several features including SPN Take 5, a weekly school news show, and SPN Live which streams live most Bixby High games in which broadcast students deliver halftime reports and player interviews. SPN Extra and SPN Special Reports allow SPN-Online staff an opportunity to utilize film and photography to explore school and Bixby community issues.
In 2014 and 2015 SPN-Online was awarded OSM’s Journalism Spirit Award. And last year SPN’s video “Wipeout Cancer’s Colors” won Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association 6A State Award for bringing awareness and raising funds as a community service.
“Being a part of SPN was the biggest blessing in my life; it was something that made me happy to go to school every day, and it made me feel like I truly had a purpose,” Thornton said. “I can only hope that there will be more students who get to experience the amazing journey that I did,” Thornton said.
To view SPN- Online, go to bixbyspn.com.