Former Rock Canyon journalism adviser earns Lifetime Achievement award
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Jack Kennedy says one of the biggest challenges and thrills of his career was helping to build Rock Canyon High School’s journalism program—from the ground up.
He became a Jaguar in 2004, just as the staff and students were moving into their brand new building. While it was technically the second year Rock Canyon was open, Kennedy had to establish the entire journalism program, from scratch.
“There had never been a newspaper, clearly, because the school was brand new. We went from deciding what the name would be to figuring out how do you run a publication when no one has a driver’s license,” Kennedy explained.
Unlike the deep-rooted programs he inherited at Heritage High School in Littleton and in Iowa City, Iowa, there was not even a journalism class when he first started.
“We had to invent it second semester of the year I came there,” Kennedy said with a laugh.
It wasn’t long, however, before all of the hard work and long hours paid off.
“By the time we were three years into it, we had won the top award—the national Pacemaker Award from NSPA (National Scholastic Press Association),” Kennedy said proudly. “Many of those kids became journalism majors and communication majors. They are working in New York City and Washington.”
In some ways, Kennedy says that experience is similar to the challenges journalism advisers experience across the country—as they try to build their own programs.
“Journalism teachers are a little bit isolated,” Kennedy explained. “There are often one or two journalism advisers in a particular school. I was almost always the only one in my career. I did newspaper, yearbook, video, literary magazine—you name it."
Since most journalism teachers do not originate from the media industry—instead starting as English, art or technology teachers—it can be difficult for them to navigate the running of a yearbook, newspaper or video program.
“So, who do you talk to, when you have questions? There are no Professional Learning Communities at your school.”
Kennedy was drawn to the Journalism Education Association (JEA) because of the training offered, as well as the relationships it builds between journalism advisers.
“It is the professional development world for a journalism adviser. There are not very many places you can go to take coursework. There are a few, but not many. So, a lot of it is the school of hard knocks, so to speak,” Kennedy said.
He believes creating networks of support for journalism and media teachers are necessary in creating a culture of journalism excellence.
“I just don’t think you can roll the dice and hope that excellence prevails. There needs to be some kind of support,” Kennedy said. “It would be like being a basketball coach who unlocks the gym and rolls out the balls and says, ‘there go play.’ That is not acceptable. There needs to be some sort of standards and direction.”
He has served in the volunteer organization since 1991, serving in various capacities, including the organization’s president. Today he enjoys supporting the current president, Mountain Vista journalism adviser and Apple Award Winner Mark Newton.
After retiring from DCSD in 2010, Kennedy jumped at the opportunity to further this work, closer to home, as the executive director of the Colorado High School Press Association.
“I’ve enjoyed switching gears, from the national board focused to something more focused on Colorado. That has been fun and challenging,” Kennedy said.
While a lot has changed over the course of his career, Kennedy says he still enjoys how journalism empowers students and teaches them 21st Century Skills.
“It is a chance for kids to show, as opposed to just getting a grade,” Kennedy said. “Whether they are in middle school or high school, kids in student media programs are getting a chance to work with the First Amendment, work with technology, work with the idea of an authentic audience.”
“You become very influential,” Kennedy added. “You actually set the agenda for what gets talked about the day or the day after the newspaper is published or the yearbook comes out or today, if you have a big story break on your website. That is a pretty amazing opportunity. What I always try to emphasize is that with that comes a certain responsibility.”
Today, with more and more programs adopting convergent media programs, where a student may report for the school’s newspaper, yearbook and video programs, Kennedy says it is even more important to provide journalism advisers with support.
“It adds an incredible level of complexity and pressure for those advisers who are not getting the right kind of professional training,” Kennedy said. “Now, all the sudden, they have to be able to help kids with their grammar or the interviewing skills—but they have to know a little bit about a WordPress website or editing some video.”
Kennedy will be presented with JEA's Lifetime Achievement Award during JEA’s Spring Conference, which will be held in Denver in April. Rock Canyon’s current yearbook adviser, Kristi Rathbun is also being honored with the organization's Distinguished Adviser award.