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 North County Academy Students Make the News

With students in teacher David Reese’s classroom conducting interviews, taking notes, working intensely on Chromebooks, or heading out to take photos, a visitor gets the feeling there’s news happening here.

That’s because there is: Reese’s classroom is North County Academy’s de facto newsroom, where the school’s Mustang Monthly newspaper is produced.

What began as a newsletter for parents has become a full-fledged journalism class that incorporates the school newspaper, yearbook, and the associated student body (ASB).

The class is part of North County Academy’s efforts to offer as many rigorous courses and extracurricular activities as possible, much like a typical high school, Principal Jamie Dayhoff said. North County Academy is the San Diego County Office of Education’s school for children facing significant behavioral or emotional challenges. The Carlsbad school serves more than 130 children from kindergarten through high school on two campuses.

Last year, the school received approval to establish a University of California-certified “a-g” college-preparatory course list that meets rigor and content guidelines for admission to UC and California State University schools. In addition, a parent advisory group was established for the Local Control and Accountability Plan, and parents asked for more typical high school activities. Features such as school T-shirts, prom, spirit week, school portraits, and yearbook have been added. Reese’s class of eight students is working on the school’s first yearbook now. It will cover all grades.

Reese’s class is officially “Yearbook 1 and 2,” and is an “a-g” approved elective. With that set, Dayhoff asked Reese to incorporate the newsletter into his class, and it became the school newspaper.

“They do a much better job with it than we did,” Dayhoff said. “They’re invested in it.”

Reese, a former reporter, sought curriculum guidance from neighboring school districts with journalism programs, and settled on one from Vista Unified. He invited a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune to talk to his class about journalism. Textbooks in the high school class include The Elements of Journalism and the Associated Press Stylebook. They study everything from what makes something newsworthy to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

Mixed in are assignments for producing the yearbook and planning ASB events. “Every day is different,” Reese said. “It’s a busy, fun class. We’ll have two-week stretches of newspaper stories, then focus on yearbook. Yesterday, we had three things going on in class.”

The class has produced three issues so far of the Mustang Monthly, and each issue typically includes a sports article, a news article, a feature article, and an editorial. The newspaper is sent to all of the parents.

“I think it’s cool that I have a part in the school newspaper,” said junior Mikey Plunkett, 17. “I’m pretty well opinionated on things, so it flows pretty easily."

Plunkett said he likes writing editorials best, but finds some of the ASB work challenging.

“I just don’t like talking to students,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s helping me get over a necessary obstacle.”

For freshman Nik Philyaw, 14, the writing and interviewing isn’t too hard; the challenge for him comes before that. “The questions are kind of hard to come up with, thinking about what to ask, and getting them to elaborate,” he said.

Reese sees myriad benefits to the class beyond fulfilling an “a-g” course requirement.

“The expectation is they are motivated, they need to be prepared,” he said. The class gets them to work on communication skills and self-advocacy. We have a wide variety of mental health needs here, including anxiety. It’s cool because the class has gotten students out there.”