By Karen T. Braeckel
HSPA Foundation

Jewelry making. Journal­ism.

Core 40 with Aca­demic Honors. Elective.

High school students and counselors sweat over such options every year.

And soon, at least one young journalist will decide which semester she won’t take a newspaper class and signs up for (take a deep breath) – jewelry making.

Why?

Jewelry qualifies as a Core 40 directed elective under fine arts. Journalism does not.

(You read it right.)

Students can take journalism as a general elective, but usually run out of elective spots by the time they are upperclassman, Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, explained. And students seeking the Academic Honors diploma must earn two fine arts credits.

So this student can string beads for Core 40 with Academic Honors credit but cannot string for the school newspaper in another journalism course for the same rigorous credit.

Hadley suggested to the Indiana Department of Education that the line with the fine arts requirement be changed to fine arts/journalism, allowing journalism photography and graphic design to be included.

“This change would help students who have to drop newspaper or yearbook to work in the fine arts requirement for a Core 40 Academic Honors Diploma,” Hadley says.

According to the DOE website, Core 40 became Indiana’s required high school curriculum in fall 2007 and includes a balanced sequence of academically rigorous high school courses in the core subjects of English, math, science and social studies; physical education; and electives including world languages, career/technical, and fine arts.

After promising anonymity (we have too few good journalism teachers in the state as it is), I spoke to the teacher whose student must decide soon when to schedule the jewelry class.

The story got worse.

The instructor gave another example of the inequity.

A student taking a general photography class under the art department receives Core 40 fine art credit. But a budding journalist in a newspaper or yearbook class working as a photographer for an actual publication does not.

So if a student shoots hundreds of photos for a school publication, determines which to print, tones and crops them, and writes cutlines, the learned skills do not equal those gained in a general photo course?

Really?

Introduction to Journalism classes historically include instruction on the First Amendment. Does this concept not rank at least as high as the first step in assembling a bracelet in a student’s academic foundation?

My husband will attest I have nothing against jewelry. And I strongly support teaching the arts, foreign language, career-technical courses – and physical education.

But let’s apply a little logic here.

“The journalistic process provides academic rigor that is worthy of weighted grades and certainly worthy of a specific place on the Academic Core 40 Honors document,” Hadley says. “Although the Department of Education has assured us that local school districts may choose to include journalism or publications as weighted classes, many are hesitant to do so without specific direction. They need to see it on the form.”

Our journalism teacher says students in some school districts are deprived of a journalism experience because of where they live. DOE could make it consistent across the state by simply adding journalism as a fine arts option.

One can only speculate why the DOE hesitates to do this. The teacher suggests, “It’s all in the numbers.”

Could advocates of fine arts fear allowing journalism an equal spot would drive students away from art electives? I cannot imagine enough students choosing journalism to shut down a fine arts class in any school.

“After 43 years teaching journalism, advising publications and working with other advisers across the country,” Hadley says, “I am even more convinced that most students would benefit from journalism or mass media instruction. Writing for a specific audience and receiving feedback from readers provides a learning laboratory that far surpasses what a single teacher in a traditional classroom environment can provide.”

Newspapers do have a horse in this race. The student mentioned here possesses the potential to be an editor of her school newspaper, according to her teacher. When a student drops journalism for jewelry, our industry potentially loses a talent.

As school begins across the state, consider making a difference for students in your community by requesting an upgrade for journalism.

Publishers and editors can approach their local school boards or superintendents to see if journalism is recognized specifically as a Core 40 course. Then take the next step by writing an editorial or letter to the Department of Education supporting this change.

Beads or ledes.

DOE certainly can find room for both.

Karen T. Braeckel is director of the HSPA Foundation.

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