Loyola University Chicago

School of Communication


Journalism Mentor Program at Senn High School

Journalism Mentor Program at Senn High School

By Elise Haas and Elizabeth Greiwe

The bell rings as fifteen-year-old freshman Symone Smith steps into her seventh-period journalism class. Usually, she glances up to see her teacher, but today there’s a new face at the front of the room - Elise Haas.

Haas is one of several students from Loyola’s chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) volunteering their time to help journalism students at the Nicholas Senn High School.

“When she came into the classroom, she was so energized,” Smith said of Haas. “She shared so many things about journalism.”

While listening to Haas talk about her experiences as a journalism student, Smith began to rethink her own future.

“I never really knew I wanted to go to college,” said Smith. “But then the Loyola students came in with really cool stories and college seems more interesting to me now.”

Because of her own personal passion for journalism, Susan Lofton, principal of Senn High School, wanted to integrate journalism courses into the school’s curriculum. The task wasn’t easy. Three of the high school’s English teachers had to switch sides this year to teach journalism.

To help ease the transition, members of Loyola’s Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) stepped into the classroom.

“It’s bridged a lot of gaps,” said Michael Cullinane, head journalism teacher at Senn. “The insight it provides is powerful.”

Smith said it is nice having the extra help at her side when writing stories, and she values the different points of view the college students bring into the classroom.

Wednesday through Friday, SPJ volunteers work with students improve their writing skills and spend their time teaching journalism staples like how to construct a news lead. The volunteers also have the chance to bring in their own tailored lesson plans to teach to the class.

“By bringing our knowledge of journalism into the classroom, it gets the students excited for future things to come,” said Haas, a sophomore journalism major and SPJ President.

For now, the program has limited access to equipment like video cameras and audio recorders, so the high school teachers have to take a creative approach to their lesson plans. Some days the students file into class for a mock press conference; others, they dive into the murky waters of media bias.

But that hasn’t lessened anyone’s interest.

The students and teachers are hungry to learn, said Associate Dean of the School of Communication (SOC) John Slania.

As of right now, only SPJ members are volunteering. Haas said she wasn’t sure when it would be open to other interested students, but she added that she would love to see the service project grow. With plans in the works like a field trip to Loyola’s broadcast station and more equipment for the high school students, the program has a bright future.

“I’m just excited to see how the next three years go,” said Slania.