Blog: Journalism education benefits special needs students

This blog post was written by Ada Clark, an adviser at Mooresville High School.

On the first day of school, one of my students walked in late. Completely unaware of her own tardiness, she marched in with a giant smile.

“Hi Kayla,” I said. “Welcome to class.”

I then looked at my students and said, “Kayla is a member of our newspaper staff this year.”

Kayla poses with a student media staff t-shirt at Mooresville High School.

In that moment, my students showed simultaneous acceptance and excitement. Most of them already knew Kayla as a special needs student in our building with Down syndrome.

Kayla faces different challenges than her peers. I agreed to allow for Kayla to join the staff in hopes of working on some of her socialization goals on her education plan. We would put her on staff because my newspaper kids would be good for her.

Little did I know, having Kayla would be great for all of us, too.

At first I felt challenged to find ways that Kayla could fit in. One day, Kayla was bored with our brainstorming session, and she fell asleep. I had lots of questions for her teacher of record. Can she write a story? Can she conduct an interview? Can she count newspapers?

I became worried and needed to make a plan for her to become a student journalist. Once my editors and I made a plan, it didn’t take long for Kayla to show us all that she could do when given the time and opportunity.

My newspaper editors decided to create a corner of one page called “Kayla’s Corner” in each of our issues. In a Q&A format, Kayla would provide her advice and ideas about the content of the page. In order to do this, Kayla learned how to use a Mac track pad, log into our system, and save a Word Documents in our file system.

Kayla also became very good at moving around our building to deliver issues of our newspaper to classes on distribution days.

Later on in the year, I learned that Kayla already had an Instagram account, complete with hundreds of selfies. I handed her a DSLR camera and taught her how to hold it. We had exciting results. We learned that Kayla can take amazing head shots because when people smile for Kayla, she has the ability to get them to truly smile.

In her second year on the newspaper staff, Kayla has also learned how to grayscale photos and adjust the levels in Photoshop. She keeps track of her notes, and her photos turn out with excellent white balance and contrast each time.

As my time with Kayla has progressed over the past two years, we also discovered something quite remarkable. Because of her experience working with other students on the newspaper staff, Kayla is making progress in other areas of her education. She can walk through the building more independently, her counting has improved, and she can speak with more confidence.

I firmly believe that journalism education can make a difference in the lives of all students who want to try. Because of my experience with Kayla, I will now seek out opportunities to find ways to provide more chances for other students like Kayla to learn.

In my staff, and for Kayla, she is one of us. She is our friend.

She became a staff member — and now she’s a journalist.

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