Weekly Report 19

Over the past week, I have created a plan for the future of my ISM journey and mapped out my steps for the rest of the year by completing my final product proposal. For my final product, I plan to get a story published on the D Magazine website- most likely a feature story about a health and fitness or food related subject. As these are both things that I am passionate about, I feel that publishing a story within one of these realms would be the perfect way to apply myself and finish my ISM year strong.

Because the journalism world is constantly changing as far as the stories available, I may not be able to find a significant story to write about within one of these realms and may have to change the subject matter depending on what arises. I am completely alright with this and am prepared to be flexible, as the unpredictability of this industry is one of the things that I love about it. I know now that I will have an incredibly short time frame in which to compose, edit, fact-check, review, and finally publish my work- only about a week. The D Magazine website churns out stories every single day, and I must be ready to put together a piece representing my best work within a time crunch. This being the case, I am prepared to make the most of my time when the opportunity does arise and put all of my hard work thus far into action.

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Weekly Report 18

This week, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most significant events in the ISM program; the Research Showcase. At the showcase, I was able to display all of the research that I have completed over the course of the fall semester essentially everything I have done in ISM thus far. By far the most rewarding aspect was getting the opportunity to present my original work article to the audience it was intended for; I wrote the article about Frisco ISD for the parents, students, and staff of Frisco ISD. Hearing their genuine interest and curiosity in my work, and even having several teachers and administrators request a copy of it, was humbling and honoring to say the least. Meeting new people, both adults and students, and getting to share the knowledge I have acquired about my passion (writing, of course) was the icing on top of the cake of a wonderful semester.

I also loved getting to see all of the incredibly innovative and unique original works of every ISM student across the district. These young students, my peers, are creating world-changing things and studying careers that will further develop our society. Seeing colorful display boards detailing a quite literally unlimited range of topics, some of which I had never even heard of before, made me realize just how lucky I am to be a part of a program that encourages such depth of learning and creative freedom.

Weekly Report 17

For an exciting start to the new year, I had my first mentor visit with Staci Parks at the D Magazine office. Staci first gave me a tour of the sleek yet welcoming office, which made my mentorship suddenly begin to feel real; seeing the bustling employees hard at work on the twenty-first floor of a skyscraper in the nucleus of downtown Dallas put butterflies in my stomach.

After I had the privilege of seeing all of the many areas of the magazine, Staci and I discussed goals, expectations, and possible opportunities for our future mentorship. We both agreed that it was important for me to gain experience in fact-checking, for that process is an essential prerequisite to publishing a piece of journalistic work. In addition to planning fact-checking opportunities, we also discussed my potential attendance of press conferences and editorial meetings, learning APA style, and even publishing original work on the magazine website. I anticipate all of these being incredible learning opportunities, and I look forward to learning something new from each and every one.

From the visit, I learned that there is so much more to putting together a magazine than meets the eye. The public sees only the final product, but there are so many unique and important jobs behind the scenes that go into making that product possible. It made me want look into some of these other occupations and see how they all work together symbiotically to create D Magazine. Journalists may write the actual text of the magazine, but that is only a fraction of the work; it is important for me to understand how they collaborate with others to put the magazine in the hands of its readers.

Frisco ISD: Fostering Students’ Growth in One of the Fastest Growing Cities in the Nation

Original Work

By Katie Berger

Frisco, Texas has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings in the early twentieth century. Frisco used to be a “one high school” town, the original Frisco High School opening its doors in 1902. It was primarily a railroad town, with only fields and homes stretching in each direction as far as the eye could see.

Now, as of 2016, the Frisco Independent School District has 9 high schools, with 4 more on the way. Countless aspects of the city have changed; several corporate headquarters have made their homes in Frisco, the Dallas North Tollway runs straight through it, and the Dallas Cowboys practice facility has attracted people from far and wide.

However, one thing has remained constant- Frisco ISD’s unwavering ability to help students reach their full potential and feel personally known and heard by adults in their school, even in the midst of recent unprecedented growth. What is Frisco ISD doing differently, and how have the choices made over the last 25 years helped maintain the benefits of its small town origins?

Some would call having 9 high schools excessive, but according to long time FISD school board member Buddy Minett, it was the people of Frisco’s choice. When asked what the thought process was behind keeping Frisco schools small, Mr. Minett said that “A number of years ago – in the early 90’s a survey was conducted by the school district asking parents if they preferred a model similar to Plano where the high schools were larger, but fewer in number, or if they preferred to go the more expensive route of smaller high school campuses that allowed for greater extracurricular participation and a more personal relationship with the principals and AP’s.  The overwhelming response was smaller campuses.” He reiterated how small student class sizes “again foster personal relationships between students and staff.  The trade-off is the higher cost of duplicating administration (principals, AP’s, counselors etc.)”

Former FISD superintendent, teacher, coach, and principal Dr. Rick Reedy has been involved with the district since 1976 and has played a key role in overseeing the entire process of Frisco’s exponential growth. He says of the purpose of the small school idea and its goals; “We put together a blue ribbon committee in the 1990’s and said ‘Okay, how do we want to grow? How do we want our district to look?’ It was strategic planning at the highest level. We worked with the city… ex-mayor Warren was on that committee, and city council members were on that committee. We were doing research, and all of the research at that time said the smaller your high school is, the more likely it is for students to be engaged in a productive way, in activities… If we could build smaller, we should build smaller… We had a noble purpose, and that was to make it better for kids. That’s the whole guiding thing. You need an adult on every campus that knows every student by name and need, and you can’t do that when you have 3,000 and 4,000 students.”

Frisco ISD has continued to set itself apart by choosing the road less traveled when it comes to final exams; Frisco does not take finals. Opinion is split fairly evenly among Frisco High School students on this subject. Some, like 11th grade Devan Delal, vouch for “selective finals, meaning teachers could choose to have finals,” while others, like 11th grade Brianna Royer, say “I am fine with it because it allows me to spend more time focusing on the other aspects of my life. Besides, AP tests are like finals that don’t harm your GPA.” Seniors, such as Kailey Rice, tend to feel stronger towards the lack of finals, as they are nearing college with every coming day; “I think it is one of the worst decisions that Frisco ISD has made. Although I would not enjoy finals, they would help prepare me for college.”

The reasoning behind this unconventional policy is focused on maximizing valuable learning time. Dr. Reedy explains that in the early 21st century, “We, as an administrative group, not just in Frisco but statewide, had been complaining for a long time about the overabundance and over reliance on standardized testing. We were spending all our time testing kids when we should be teaching kids. We said, if you’re going to make us do all of this standardized testing, then we will cut down on the testing that we do (i.e., finals). We did a study on it one time to look at the number of days that we were testing students, and it was an enormous number… There was too much testing and not enough teaching.”

Furthermore, the saving grace of hundreds of high school students throughout Frisco ISD has been the retake policy, under which a student can retake a major grade test for up to 85 points. This policy, relatively recently instated, has helped countless students save their GPA’s from a fatal blow and truly understand the material they are being tested over.

However, there is that ubiquitous idea constantly looming over students’ heads; college. There are no, and have never been, retakes in college, as any graduate can attest to. How is students’ ability use the retake as a crutch every time a major grade rolls around preparing them for higher education?

Isabella Alexander, 11th, is aware of this, saying “I rarely retake, as I study for the first test and almost always score well the first time. It is nice to have a retake policy in place for the times when I do not have time to properly prepare. However, this is not how it will be in college, which is worrisome for people who retake often.”

Maddie Gray, 11th, in contrast, says of the retake policy, “It’s a nice redo and I appreciate being allowed to make mistakes when I’m young.”

Why was the retake policy established, knowing that this second chance will not be available in neither higher education nor the working world?

“The whole purpose is mastery,” says Dr. Reedy. “There are a lot of ways to get the mastery, and just because you fail something the first time doesn’t mean that you can’t master it. If you master 85% of the essential elements of whatever the coursework is, why should we really care that it takes some students a little longer than others to get there? Students learn at different rates, and they have different abilities, and if you master the material, why should we care if you have to retake it?”

What do students think of FISD’s success in creating and maintaining a successful learning environment? When asked how Frisco ISD could improve students’ overall education experience, Mackenzie Ulam, 11th, summed up the responses fairly well, saying that she “feel[s] that outside of school assignments need to be beneficial, rather than a chore that most students feel they just need to get done before school the next day.”

The majority of Frisco High students surveyed made a comment about the weighty homework load placed upon students’ shoulders every night, even on breaks. Peyton Burnett, 9th, thinks that “students should get more time to complete their homework. This is because the teachers assign a massive amount of homework and students spend 2 days staying up until 1:30- 2:00AM, causing them to then sleep in class.”

Likewise, Kaela Ware, 10th, says “FISD as a whole could look into only giving us work that is beneficial and eliminate busy work all together to give us an advantage later in life and to be effective on our education.”

The vast majority of responses collected from students stated that their least favorite part of school is the stress and anxiety that accompanies it. As put by Ms. Ulam, “Anxiety rates sky rocket when school starts. The fact that school is affecting the mental health of some students is so unfortunate.”

“I’m not aware of any specific program to minimize stress and anxiety,” says Buddy Minett when asked if the district is doing anything to help ease this problem. “The smaller school concept should help in creating relationships where struggling students would feel comfortable discussion their concerns with teachers and administrators. Frequently, high achievers choose AP and other high rigor classes. They need to understand that stress comes with that additional rigor. I believe some level of stress and anxiety is a good thing. If we aren’t challenged, we won’t grow and learn to adapt to challenging situations. Once students move on to careers, they will be constantly put in situations with stress and anxiety. Having some experience and confidence should help as you grow in your chosen career.”

Dr. Reedy offers this advice from his 4 decades of involvement in Frisco ISD to students dealing with stress; “School has never been as rigorous as it is right now. But as far as alleviating that stress and anxiety- bring some balance into your life. Have an activity that you truly love and want to be a part of. You will not look back on the experience [of high school] as favorable if you didn’t have something other than just pounding the books night in and night out. Exercise, eat right, make sure that you’ve taken care of all of your mental, emotional, and psychological needs in some way or another, and don’t put it all into making sure you are valedictorian.”

Frisco ISD has provided its students with many opportunities to maximize the benefits of their education experience, whether it be through its elective/extracurricular programs focused on real world preparation, such as Independent Study and Mentorship and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center, or keeping its graduating classes small to guarantee that every student is known by name and need. Perhaps it is Frisco’s consistent “students first” mindset, and willingness to veer off the well-paved road to maintain it, that distinguishes it from the masses.

Original Work Set-Up and Completion Summary

Date/s: 11/5/2016 – 1/1/17

Materials: Google Forms, Microsoft Word, iPhone Voice Recording

Objective/Purpose: In my original work article, I was attempting to answer the question of why Frisco ISD sticks with its many smaller high schools rather than fewer large ones, why we don’t take finals, why we have retakes, and how students feel about FISD’s success in creating a learning environment that encourages growth. I wanted to provide insight on why Frisco ISD has the policies that it does, what its goals are for students, and how it has maintained the benefits of a small-town feel in the midst of exponential growth. Beyond the subject matter, I was trying to apply all of the traits of good journalism I acquired through research; remaining objective, getting all points of view on the subject, and making good use of technology as a journalism aid.

Description of Process: I first researched popular topics in journalism today- things the journalism community is buzzing about, news that hasn’t been widely covered yet, or interesting stories that needed to be told. I eventually decided to write a story about Frisco ISD because I knew that it 1) had the potential to make an impact in my community, and 2) allow me to realistically gather quotes/data/comments from relevant sources. After deciding the topic for my article, I narrowed it down to a select few concepts within FISD: why we have so many small schools, the retake policy, the lack of final exams, and student opinion on the district.

I then had to start collecting quotes from students of Frisco ISD, as well as from adults currently or previously involved with Frisco ISD. I first created a survey asking what Frisco High School students thought about FISD’s policies and what they thought the district could improve upon. After I had collected ample responses, I analyzed them for similarities and differences and selected a few that represented the opinion of the majority. I embedded these into the article where fitting, and built body paragraphs around these responses by elaborating in my own words.

Next, I conducted an interview via email with long time school board member Buddy Minett asking about the origins of certain policies as well as the reasoning behind their establishment. I then inserted his responses and moved on to my last interview with Dr. Rick Reedy, former FISD superintendent. I used my iPhone to record Dr. Reedy’s incredibly detailed responses to my questions concerning FISD’s massive growth, then transcribed his quotes into my article. After I had all of the outside comments I needed, I finished my article with my own words, ensuring that it was as objective as possible while maintaining an engaging tone and unique voice.

Utilization of Higher-Level Thinking Skills: In the creation of my original work, I had to evaluate the student survey responses one by one, as they all differed in point of view. I then analyzed them heavily for similarities and differences, seeing if there were any overwhelming majorities in either direction on any subject. Lastly, I synthesized them to provide an accurate representation of the student body’s thoughts in my article. I had to make sure that the responses I chose to include were detailed enough, used proper language and grammar, and represented a diverse range of students from a number of grade levels and genders.

Results: From writing my article, I have learned many lessons about our local school district and how it affects its students. I’ve gained insight on Frisco ISD’s goals and purpose behind their policies. Perhaps the biggest question I had going into my original work has been answered; we have small high schools because the people of Frisco wanted them, and because it allows students to remain actively involved in their school. In addition, I learned that the lack of finals is due to the overabundance of standardized testing in the district, and that the retake policy was established to encourage mastery of material regardless of how long it may take.

Conclusions/Interpretations: In addition to lessons about Frisco ISD, I have also learned new things about my topic, print journalism. I have reached the conclusion that in order to write on particular subject matter, a journalist must first take time to become educated on the subject (or at least have background/context) in order to successfully write an insightful piece. Going into ISM, I was under the impression that journalists were simply told what to write about by a boss of some kind without any previous knowledge besides basic facts, but it is quite the opposite. Journalists, before even beginning to write, must first acquire facts from various sources about the people involved and events leading up to the one being focused on. If the writer knows nothing except for the details of the actual event being reported on, the only thing that they can possibly write is a news report- undetailed facts, vague statements, and promises of more information coming later. However, by taking the time to do research and familiarize themselves with the subject, a journalist can give a whole new level of depth to their writing.

Furthermore, I have learned that when acquiring sources, it is important to have a plan B, C, D, etc. Many of the adults that I reached out to when asking for comments never got back to me, and I had to reach out to far more adults to finally get an interview than I had originally anticipated. Even though somebody may be at the top of a journalist’s “to interview” list, they may not be the best choice. Creating a long list of possible sources along with a long list of possible questions to accompany it assures that a writer will not be left in a time crunch if requests for comments get turned down one after another.

Application/Meaning: In my future endeavors in journalism, I can apply my new knowledge by doing more prerequisite work when preparing to write articles. From now on, I can search for multiple sources who may have information on the story in the beginning stages of the process, so that I allow myself ample time to secure an interview with one of them if I get turned down multiple times. Additionally, I will ensure that I do anything in my power to make sure I am knowledgeable about anything that I may write about. More than anything, I want my writing to mean something to people; by providing unique insight, unheard details, and helpful context, I can set my writing apart.

Weekly Report 16

This week in ISM, I finished my Research Showcase display board, which displays all of the key aspects of my ISM journey thus far. Completing this task has taught me how to present information in a concise yet thorough way, and has also taught me how to decide which pieces of information are most important to display in order to achieve the overall message I am trying to get across. I tend to want to showcase as much of my work as possible and have trouble getting to the point, so preparing this presentation was great practice for me.

Furthermore, in writing my original work assessment, I was able to reflect on how much I have truly learned from the composition of my original work article. I found assessing my work extremely beneficial; I now know a great amount more about the journalism industry than I did going into it, and seeing where that knowledge stemmed from was intriguing. I found that I learned the most from the processes of finding and acquiring quotes/comments from sources and actually writing a full length piece in the objective voice of a journalist. Having the opportunity to compose my own original piece of journalistic work has provided me with a door into the world of journalism, and it taught me how to fulfill the duties of a good journalist.

Weekly Report 15

Over the past weeks, I have finished my entire original work, and I am incredibly proud of my first ever piece of journalistic work.

On the first day of winter break, I had my first face-to-face interview with a professional that was not informational. Up until now, all of my interviews have been either organized or required by ISM, but this one was completely lead and arranged by me. It was also my first experience acquiring quotes from a source. Furthermore, I transcribed the interview from the voice recording into my article, ensured that all of my quotes were accurate, and put the finishing touches on/proofread an article of my own writing. I did a generous amount of rearranging the wording of my article (making sure I spoke only in third person and refrained from subjectivity) and even altering the headline to ensure that it captured the contents of my work appropriately. When all of the fine tuning was done, I was left with a product that I was proud to put my name on.

This entire experience has been an opportunity for me to develop my distinct voice as a writer, as well as gain experience with the writing and publishing process. As I prepare to present my article, I am eager to see if any opportunities for publication present themselves.