Product Progress Assessment

My final product, writing an article featuring natural beauty products from local Dallas vendors, has been teaching me many lessons about my field of study. I have discovered for myself that the beginning stages of writing an article are far more tedious, slow-moving and difficult than the actual composition of the article is. A journalist must narrow down literally an entire world full of possibilities for story ideas down to one particular one. They then must do background research on it to gain context and understanding, then search and contact sources surrounding that article. I am currently finishing up this beginning stage, preparing to contact sources. In addition, I have learned how big of a deal fact-checking is in the journalism world. If one tiny fact (it does not even have to be a proper noun, like a name or birthplace of an individual) is not entirely true, the publisher could take a lot of heat over it. In writing my article, I will make sure to pay especially close attention to detail when describing a product and its creator so that I portray them to the public in an appropriate manner.

I have also learned about myself as a writer through this process. I already knew that I like to be as thorough as possible, but I am now discovering the implications of this detail orientation and dedication to perfection. It is a positive in the sense that I know that I am putting my best work out there, but it is also negative in that it is causing me to fall behind schedule. In the future, I will have to work on my timing and completing my best work in a shorter period of time.

I am making progress on my product more slowly than I anticipated on my calendar; however, this is normal. In writing an article, the prerequisite work is always the hardest and longest part. Once I have a set story to pursue, all of my sources, and quotes from them, I can easily compile them into one cohesive article within a matter of days. In order to fix my legging behind, I plan on securing and contacting sources for my article this week (the week of 3/27) to ensure ample time to acquire quotes and comments. There is still much work to do; once I have my quotes, I must write the body of the article, then proofread and fact-check it. I am pleased with how the article is shaping up so far; I have found five companies that make and sell local and natural beauty products in Dallas. They are all interesting individuals with relatable and inspiring stories of creativity and innovation; I believe that their testimonies will enhance my article and make it colorful.

My mentor has been a vital player in the completion of my final product; she has been involved in every step of its development. She first heard my story pitches and helped me decide on one, then she taught me step by step the processes and characteristics of fact-checking and writing in AP style. Were it not for her, my article would be formatted entirely incorrectly, and it would most likely not be published. Speaking of which- my mentor is the sole reason that I even have a chance at getting published. Even if it does not happen for me with this specific article, at least I have the experience of writing an article in a format acceptable for publication; it is the experience that counts.

Product Proposal

            Introduction and Purpose

For my final product, I plan to write a feature story article highlighting a local health and fitness or food story and have it published on D Magazine’s website. Because the journalism industry is constantly changing as far as the stories available, I may have to adjust my subject matter or even switch to another topic entirely to account for what the magazine wants published. However, I know for a fact that these two areas (food and health/fitness) both have channels on the D website, and it reasonable and easily feasible for me to publish a story under either of them. No matter the subject matter, I plan to work closely with my mentor to compose, edit, fact-check, and publish my article on one of the channels of the D Magazine website. Through writing this article, my purpose is to gain my first professional publication experience; I hope to see how a professional journalist collaborates with others, goes through trial and error with sources, relentlessly fact-checks, and proofreads carefully to get their story into print. By experiencing the road to publication for myself, I will be fully prepared for future publication opportunities and know what to expect as far as timing and logistics.

Review of Skills and Research

Much of my research will be applied in creating my final product, as I am now going to have the opportunity to write a story much like the ones I have analyzed for research, applying all of the concepts I have learned at once. I will be able to maintain objectivity, make use of social media in gaining background information and perhaps even acquiring quotes for the article, and include all sides of the story without excluding any “undesirable” facts, all aspects of writing that I have completed research assessments over. Furthermore, I will learn new skills in bringing this article to fruition; I will learn how to fact-check in a professional environment, how to write in APA style to maintain credibility and correctness, and how to conduct an editorial meeting in a professional environment. All of these skills will be instrumental in my development of a journalism career, and my final product will be a tool to help me acquire them.

Methodology

To bring my product to completion, I will first need to consult with my mentor as well as the other writers and editors working on the D website. I will need to hear a list of stories that they are looking at publishing and choose one to tackle for my product. In order to do this, I will need to sit in on an editorial meeting in the office, speaking face to face with my mentor’s colleagues about what the team as a whole needs and expect from me. Once I have my story, I will need to complete background research in order to gain some context, acquiring a list of sources for comments as I go. I may even need to visit a few different locations around the city to speak to different individuals, take photos for my article, and enhance my understanding of the story as a whole. After that, I will need to acquire comments from multiple sources, either over email, phone, or an in-person interview, in order to gain the perspectives of individuals on all sides of the subject. When I have all the information I require, I will actually write the article, combining, synthesizing, and refining my own knowledge of the subject and the comments of my sources in order to form a cohesive story. Then, once the article is complete, I will need to complete the fact-checking and editing process in order to ensure that my information is reliable and accurate. This is most likely the step in the process where I will need to consult several different editors at D, taking and applying their corrections and/or suggestions. Proofreading is the next step, spell-checking and adjusting grammar so that every aspect of my article is correct. Finally, once the story is virtually flawless, I will present the final product to Ms. Parks in order to have it actually published on D’s website.

            Materials

I will need to spend little to no money on materials for my final product, as mine is strictly a display of my skills in digital form. Most of the work will be done on my laptop; I need it to actually write the body of my article, correspond via email with sources, my mentor, and other collaborators on my article, do background research, upload original pictures to accompany the story, fact-check, and proofread. I will also need my iPhone on which to record face-to-face interviews with sources, search social media for further insight on my story, and communicate with my mentor. Other than these, I may or may not need a digital camera to take pictures to accompany the story (I do not know if I will be assigned a photographer employed at D to take the pictures, or if I will even be required to have pictures at all), but these three tools are the only materials I will require to bring my product to life. Luckily, they cost nothing, as I currently have all of them in my possession.

Utilization of Higher Level Thinking Skills

In the culmination of my product, I will be applying a variety of higher level thinking skills. I will need to think creatively in every aspect of writing my article, from finding sources and coming up with questions to ask them, to finding good angles from which to take pictures to accompany the story. Actually composing the body of my article is a task of creation within itself. Additionally, I will need to problem solve if multiple sources deny me a comment by seeking out new ones elsewhere. I need to think critically and implement evaluation throughout the entire process, being my own worst critic when it comes to editing, fact-checking, and proofreading. Furthermore, I need to analyze all of the bits and pieces of information I will acquire through background research and interviews and synthesize it into one cohesive story that flows together.

Conclusions

I anticipate the outcome of my product to be an informative and entertaining report of a local event, organization, or individual to the people of Dallas, Texas.  I think I will learn many incredibly valuable skills that will aid me in achieving a professional journalism career one day, as well as get me the one thing that puts a young hopeful journalist above any other candidate; publication. My product will apply to the real world by actually being published in the real world; the people of Dallas will be able to consult it as a source for information, news, and entertainment. It will be utilized to inform the population of Dallas of happenings in their community, and it will benefit the city as a whole by potentially bringing people together over the story described in my article.

Original Work Assessment

 Through writing my original work article, I learned more than I ever could have in a classroom.  Creating a piece of journalistic work on my own has taught me how many different pieces go into writing a story, as well as how to successfully complete those processes on my own. In writing my article, I have had to complete every step of the process by myself, whereas professional journalists almost always have help in the workplace. From now on, I will always be prepared to take on the full workload, and any additional help will simply be a blessing. The creation of my original work has, quite literally, allowed me to experience what a journalist actually does in the workplace on a daily basis.

The process of going out into the real world to acquire quotes from outside sources has taught me about the steps necessary to obtain the highest quality and most reliable information as possible. I learned that in order to ensure that I cover all perspectives on the subject of my story, I need to compile a long list of diverse potential sources. When attempting to get comments from current FISD school board members for my article, not a single one of them replied; I did not know who to turn to next, and I was at a loss on professionals to interview until Coach Goff gave me a few additional contacts. In the future, I can avoid this predicament by doing background research on multiple individuals or groups who could even potentially be connected to the story. Another lesson I have learned about consulting sources is that a journalist has to be bold and up front about what exactly they are asking. If a journalist beats around the bush or tries to make a question sound nicer than it is, the meaning could become lost on the interviewee and they may end up answering a question you weren’t asking. When interviewing Dr. Reedy, I asked broad questions and received minutes-long answers; while I was extremely grateful for his detailed responses, I realized that I could have refined my questions more in order to get more focused answers.

Composing my own full length story has also helped me to develop my own unique voice as a journalist. While remaining objective, I have learned how to insert humor, develop my ideas, and elaborate an appropriate amount without being excessive or redundant. Before I wrote my article, I was quite wordy in my writing. As I went, I had to fine-tune my work, eliminating any excess commentary that distracted from the purpose of the story. While essays in English classes preach lengthy commentary, it is essential to avoid personal comments or opinions in print journalism as much as possible, unless the piece calls specifically for it. Composing my first piece of journalistic work has taught me a crucial skill in the journalism industry- how to separate my two voices as a writer. I can now write both as the one who is able to take a clear stance and elaborate for paragraphs on my views, and the one who tells real-world stories featuring only the unique views of others.

The completion of my original work has also revealed to me the rewarding side of writing that my potential mentors all told me about. In every one of my informational interviews, the interviewee told me that the most rewarding part of journalism is putting your name on a piece that you are proud of, something that you know is going to have an impact on people. I had the privilege of experiencing this feeling; the fluttering in my heart and butterflies in my stomach when I finished my first original piece has me hooked. My original work, above all, has affirmed that writing is something that I most definitely want to be doing for a long, long time to come.

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.

Original Work Proposal

There are several scales on which one can perform journalism- local, regional, national, and international. Each of these are of incredible importance to the group which they serve, providing its members with insightful details on relevant information that affects them directly. In my original work, I hope to kick start my journalism career with a published work of local journalism providing insight on a local institution that impacts the lives of Frisco residents every day. I plan to compose an article detailing the Frisco Independent School District- why it has made the choices it has, how it compares to other surrounding districts, and how it has impacted its students. My article will answer questions such as: Why does Frisco have so many small high schools rather than a few large ones, and what are the pros and cons to both students and residents without children in Frisco schools? How does the lack of district enforced final exams affect students’ performance on the same exams in college? What do students feel that the district could do to improve their education experience?

To do this, I will need to gather several sources for quotes and different perspectives on the subject. These will include students and teachers of FISD, who are directly impacted by any and every move the district makes, and FISD schoolboard members, who make the decisions. I will need to research the contact information and schedule of several Frisco ISD administrators, as well as schedule interviews with them, in order to obtain the information I require. In addition, I will have to conduct surveys and interviews with a diverse range of Frisco ISD students in order to properly represent their point of view. After I have gathered all of the responses I require, I will have to analyze them for similarities and differences, then synthesize them with other facts to form a coherent story.

This article will be able to give the school district direct feedback from their students, and vice versa; it will have the potential to enact changes in our education system. Its composition will also allow me to apply all of my research on procedures to follow when gathering sources; having compassion, being persistent, and having thick skin. Writing this story would challenge me to step out of my comfort zone as a student and take on every responsibility of a professional journalist, from conducting research and gathering sources to writing and editing my story. Creating a full blown piece of journalistic work would help me to lay the groundwork for my future career as well as allow me to turn all of my hypothetical knowledge and “I will’s”  into action and “I did’s.”