With more than 100 accolades to its name, The Dexter Squall, student newspaper, is set to join nine of its peers in the prestigious Michigan Interscholastic Press Association's (MIPA) Hall of Fame.
The newspaper will be inducted in a special ceremony at Michigan State University on April 17.
"This is a great reflection on the high quality of students that our program continues to attract," journalism advisor Rod Satterthwaite said. "It's a reflection on the Dexter community and parents who value the importance of a strong education, creativity and critical thinking, which are all skills our student develop."
In order to qualify for the MIPA Hall of Fame, a student publication (newspaper, yearbook, online publication, etc.) must accumulate nine Spartan awards — MIPA's highest award for overall quality in a student publication — in a 10-year period. The Squall has received 10 Spartans in 13 years. In addition, last year the newspaper received .
"I try to run the class as a real newsroom," Satterthwaite said. "The student editors pick and choose content within the legal and ethical boundaries of a school publication, and they learn to make those hard decisions by chewing on difficult topics. Sometimes they make mistakes, but they also learn from those mistakes and it makes us stronger in the long run."
Connor Thompson, editor-in-chief, said one attribute that defines The Squall is the staff's consistent determination to cover all aspects of student life, no matter how controversial.
"We have tried to transcend the genre of reporting on what's for lunch in the cafeteria in favor of the hard-hitting news," he said.
Recently the staff completed an investigative piece on the dismissal of Vicki Allie, a technology specialist at the high school, by submitting a FOIA request to district officials. The staff also spent a week tirelessly compiling a special 12-page edition of The Squall coverage of the .
"Our main factor in determing what to cover is: 'Does it have an impact on the students?' Unless it's offensive, it deserves to be in the paper," Thompson said.
A measurement standard for offensive content has been the gray cloud hovering over the student publication since last year, when a group of local residents began publishing a blog advocating for tighter editorial control from Sattherwaite and DHS Principal Kit Moran. The blog alleges the newspaper has printed content that is "unsuitable for children and underage teenagers" with virtually no oversight by the faculty and administrators at DHS.
An example cites a 2008 article published in The Rostrum, a supplement to The Squall, whch parents said glorified students selling drugs on campus. The article, aptly titled “Dirty Dealing,” was published alongside other articles in the Rostrum’s job guide.
Complaints have forced the Dexter Community Schools Board of Education to .
"The complaints have really galvanized students and shown us how real our responsibilities as journalists are," Thompson said. "I think the feedback has made our publication and our staff even better at what we do."
Moving toward a digital media age
As students continue to tackle real-world issues facing newsrooms across the globe, one area that The Squall has embraced albeit slowly has been publishing on the Internet.
Students have been working alongside web editor Nicole Ferguson to learn the ins and outs of Wordpress software and publish daily content on the web.
"Mr. Sattherwaite has really been pushing us to use Twitter and Facebook. Our entire staff has their own Twitter accounts that they update regularly," Ferguson said. "Our goal has also been to post one story a day on the website."
Students have been experimenting with uploading video and other multimedia technology to enhance web stories, Ferguson said. The staff is even partnering with Dexter Patch to have a weekly web prescence on Patch.com.
"Our focus has really shifted to the Internet during the last two years. Because of the changing dynamic of news, we have to be more effective in preparing students to use their skills publishing online," Sattherwaite said. "It's been a challenge because our student body has indicated more than once that they don't want the print publication to go away. Students see a value in having their name in print, so we are continuing to tackle ways to drive more traffic to the website."
After 13 years at the helm, Sattherwaite said being a part of The Squall's Hall of Fame induction will be a real honor.
"I get to work with some great kids," he said. "Hopefully what I am teaching them is that they can think for themselves. I want to give them the confidence to walk out of the classroom and use their leadership skills for whatever career path they choose. On a daily basis I learn something new from my students, and they make me laugh. It's great to see the students recognized for their talent."
Moran said the induction of The Squall in MIPA's Hall of Fame speaks volumes for the students at Dexter High School.
"I am a huge supporter of The Squall and I am incredibly proud to be the principal at a school that can produce such fine student journalism," Moran said. "During his tenure, Rod Satterthwaite has done an outstanding job educating your journalists. But most importantly, he allows the student editors to run the paper the way they see fit. Consequently, each year has a different flair and feeling.
"It is easy to support a program with such fantastic leadership by both students and staff. Go Squall!"