Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – From a stiff and staid sea of gray in distant decades past to today’s slick, full-color production, the Arcata High School student newspaper, The Pepperbox has educated and informed students since the 1920s. But now, the crisis in print media has reached AHS, and 2010 could be the year that the Pepperbox goes away.
Faced with the need to cut another $196,000 from its $15 million budget, the Northern Humboldt Union High School District is asking the principals of Arcata and McKinleyville high school is to make some extremely difficult decisions about what elements of the curriculum will survive into the next school year.
It’s not looking good for the school newspapers. Last week, according to Editor Sarah Han, she was advised to select a course other than Journalism, which may be downgraded to a club as it has been at McKinleyville High, or eliminated outright.
The “section allocations” are based on preferences indicated by freshmen, sophomores and juniors when they register for school in March. These reflect the advice and guidance given the students by career counselors. The district takes the student preferences and tries to map out curriculum for the next few years. “We’re kind of on the receiving end,” said Superintendent Kenny Richards.
The district is also on the receiving end of state budget mandates, which plays out in the impossible choices presented to administrators. Richards said the state “really pitted schools against schools.”
Other pending cuts include reductions in pay and hours for staff and teachers and possibly eliminating one week of the school year.
The first to speak at last week’s NHUHSD board meeting were the students who create the Pepperbox. They implored the board to retain Journalism, noting that most students get their information about school affairs from the student paper as well as the vital role news reporting plays in the larger society.
The Pepperboxers said that with a full courseload, they wouldn’t have time to participate in a club, and that Journalism merits more than hobby status. They also noted that the newspaper pays for itself from advertising revenue, though the school must fund the instruction.
About 35 students are involved with the current journalism class, a smaller number creating the newspaper.
AHS Principal Lisa Gray will decide the section allocations by the end of the current school year so that the school can gear up, configure staff and create lesson plans for fall instruction accordingly.
“There’s a chance that the Journalism class will continue,” Richards said. “It’s one of those classes that schools usually want to continue, no matter what.”
Monday, AHS Principal Lisa Gray said that the the Journalism class will continue, even if as a club. And if enough stidents participate on that basis, the Pepperbox will remain alive. “That’s the goal,” she said. “We definitely did not want that [the paper’s closure] to happen.”
She said teacher Danielle Lehman, who previously taught the Journalism class, has volunteered to step up and run a Journalism Club.
Gray reiterated what Richards said – that surviving class sections will be based on the interests of the students. And the elective Journalism class is “more than likely” at an end.
“You do have to make some hard decisions,” Gray said. “We are still going to put out a paper.”