Tiger Rag staff hitting its stride
After being away from advising the Tiger Rag school newspaper for a few years, New Richmond High School English teacher Jeffrey Ayer came back to the group this year to teach the journalism course that puts together the multi-issue paper.
“Principal Wissink said that he wanted me to put the paper back on the map again at the school,” said Ayer, who started teaching, both English and the journalism course, at the high school in 2000. “This class was coupled with the yearbook class last year and that is just too much for one class. The yearbook class is really photo intensive, so they learn a lot of the photography stuff, but not as much about the journalism part. In this class, we focus on the writing and the layout and not nearly enough time on the photography.”
The one-semester class comes to a close this week with the end of the first semester, but students will be able to take the course again next semester. The group of students who took charge of the newspaper this last semester have put out two papers to date and are currently finishing up their final issue, which should be out in the next few weeks.
“Usually we put out one to two every month, but this year has been a little spotty since we had to learn all of the software, so that took a while,” said senior Emma Rehnelt, who is the layout and news editor for the Tiger Rag. “The paper changes every semester depending on who is in the class. So, it kind of depends on the number of students.”
When the semester started, Ayer had just two students registered to take his journalism course, but after putting out the word to the whole student body he was able to recruit six more students to take the class.
“I was in study hall one day when Mr. Ayer came in and took the microphone and said that he needed more people to fill out his staff for the paper,” Rehnelt said. “At the beginning of the year, Matt [Gerlach] was the only one in the class, so all of us here now other than Matt are recruits that Mr. Ayer was able to bring in later on.”
The students began the class by learning from a textbook, but they were chopping at the bit to start work on the real deal. The first edition of this year’s volume of the Tiger Rag made it to newsstands in early November.
“The biggest challenge for the kids was waiting to actually do the newspaper,” Ayer said. “For the first month or so, we used the textbook approach and talked about the basics. Those are essential pieces for them to have, but they get a little impatient because they want to apply, apply, apply and make it real.”
One of the best parts of working on the paper for the students is getting to inform the student body, as well as the staff, what is going on at the school and watch them read the paper.
“I think that even people who have been going here their whole lives are learning stuff and finding out about things that they had never even heard just from what we write and put in the paper,” said sophomore Kendra Wiswell, who is features editor and shoots photos for the paper. “The people who are featured in the paper are picking up extra copies and that is pretty cool to see too.”
The biggest challenge for most of the staff working on the paper was figuring out the layout software and learning how to design a real paper. According to Rehnelt and Wiswell, the first paper they put out wasn’t quite up to the standards they had set for themselves, but as the semester wore on, they were able to improve their skills and make a better product.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the last issue compares to the first one we did,” Wiswell said. “I think it will be interesting since we have all grown a lot and gotten better at it since then.”
The best part about teaching the journalism class in Ayer’s mind is seeing the final product the students put out.
“For me it is one of my favorite classes to teach,” Ayer said. “I told the class last week that I wish every class had a product they would produce that demonstrated all that they can do. What is great about what these kids are doing is that they have a product that they distribute and have to take pride in, put time into and work as a team to get it done. It is real-life learning that they are doing.”
An area where Ayer saw his students excel this semester was learning to talk to other students, teachers or administrators for their stories even if they weren’t not comfortable with it before taking the class.
“Another challenge they had to go through was getting out of their comfort zones and talking to people they didn’t know or do phone interviews and talk with adults or administrators,” Ayer said. “Teamwork can also be a challenge for them, since there are a lot of different personalities in every group. But I find that diversity is a good thing for the paper and is sometimes better.”
With the first semester ending on Jan. 24, Ayer will have to start over with a mostly new group of students on the Tiger Rag staff, but he knows that the students who are retaking the class will serve as good mentors to the new students and help show them the ropes.
“I told them that I thought the first issue was pretty good as a learning experience and that the second one was even better,” Ayer said. “At this point, they are kind of a well oiled machine now that they have gotten to the third one. It is just kind of unfortunate that we are only going to have a couple of them back for second semester, so it is a bit of a rebuilding phase.”
Ayer plans on having around four more issues of the Tiger Rag published in the second semester, including a satire edition at the end of the school year.