Forum gives Mountain Vista media students real-world experience in journalism, event planning
HIGHLANDS RANCH- The recent election gave students involved in Mountain Vista Media (MVM), Mountain Vista High School’s student-led media department, an authentic learning opportunity when they organized and coordinated their own candidate forum.
The student-led project began back in September. Senior and MVM Editor Tara O’Gorman decided she wanted to host a student-run forum, with student-generated questions, for the six candidates running for the Douglas County Board of Education. She specifically hoped the event would give students a chance to have their voices heard. A large undertaking, fellow Senior and MVM Editor Katie Pickrell offered to collaborate with her in organizing the forum.
After six weeks of planning and preparation, the forum materialized on October 22. All questions were student generated—collected from emails and Twitter posts from students across Douglas County. The event was additionally live-streamed.
We caught up with Tara and Katie this week to learn more about them, their experience coordinating the forum, and what they are looking forward to after graduation.
1. What was the most thrilling part for you in organizing the forum?
Tara: The most thrilling part for organizing this was that we didn't know what to expect. At first it was very hard because I decided that I wanted to do this and Katie started helping me out from there. We set up a date, we emailed the candidates and it was actually happening. We decided that we would ask all the candidates the same questions to make it a fair forum. At the start of the event, we weren't sure if the live stream was actually going to work which made it hard, but with support from our advisor, Mark Newton, we got it up and running just in time.
Katie: Over and over again, I heard my adviser talking about how this election may be one of the most important political happenings in Douglas County. I think the whole process of putting together this forum, whether that meant emailing the candidates or talking to other students from different Douglas County schools, really put into perspective how much what we were doing mattered. Something that was a little more difficult was composing questions. I personally knew a lot about the matter, but not everyone did. Being entirely student driven, we did not ask for help from teachers or adults to compose questions. I think we ended up doing a better job without their help than we would have done with it because we placed such a large emphasis on the student aspect of the Board's responsibility.
2. Was there a standout moment for you?
Tara: The stand out moment for me was when I asked the question about standardized testing. I have been writing about standardized testing for over a year and for me to directly ask candidates that are already on the Board or running was huge. It also gave me a way to directly express our issues with teacher evaluation through standardized tests. While I was standing up on that stage with many students, parents and teachers in the audience there was a lot of feedback from the audience when some of the candidates responded. That was a huge deal to me because it made me realize that each of my questions created a response. That is when you know it is a good question. Another moment that really stood out to me was after the forum how many people came up to me thanking me for the forum and that it was something that was really powerful. That was when I realized that what I was doing meant something to a large group of people.
3. How was the feedback from students and from your teachers?
Tara: The feedback was great. There are so many teachers that came up to me and congratulated me. I also got attention from students that felt like our voice as students were heard. There was so much positive feedback from DCSD parents, and the teachers also really appreciated that we gave them a voice.
Katie: I received so much positive feedback from so many teachers. My sixth grade teacher saw it and complimented me, as well as my fellow staffers on the professionalism of the debate. My piano teacher from when I was little watched the live stream and praised the way we got the candidates to all speak about the root of the issues. All of the teachers at Mountain Vista High School were beyond supportive and ensured we knew how appreciative they were that we organized and carried through with the forum.
4. What did you learn from the six weeks of coordinating the event that you didn't know before?
Tara: I learned that sleep is irrelevant to a big event like this. I think it was really stressful getting all of the details together before the big day. I also learned that we had to keep working on it in order to create a big event like this. I also didn't really know politics six weeks before the election. I started getting really into politics, which is why I wanted to put on this forum. But when I was in the planning process, some of it was hard to understand. I also learned that I really do enjoy politics. It is something that, as a journalist, I have a voice in. The whole election to me was about having a voice, and giving the voice to students.
Katie: Though I was already fairly knowledgeable compared to most students, I learned a lot more about the Board of Education. On the organization aspect, I learned a lot about how difficult it may be to work with students from different schools. I struggled to come together with other schools over the forum, but tried my hardest to involve everyone. One thing I saw that I had never really witnessed before was how passionate many teachers, parents, and students are about the Board of Education. Over the past couple of months, I've had individuals that I had thought to be strangers coming up and talking over educational policies with me.
5. Are you interested in pursuing media/journalism in the future as a career? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Tara: Before the election, I wasn't really sure about pursuing journalism, but after the election, I definitely want to minor in journalism if I don't major in it. The election was an eye opener to me that I can accomplish what matters. I will pursue politics more in college. I also hope to accomplish having a voice in politics. I hope to be that journalist that asks the right questions to make candidates stutter. My dream job would be an editor for the Boston Globe, even though I have only been to Boston once.
Katie: In the future, my dream job is political reporting. I've been extremely passionate about local, state, and national politics since I began high school. The journalism program at Mountain Vista has granted me so many amazing opportunities to peer into what could potentially be my future– whether I'm speaking of the national conventions or the Capitol Hill Press Conference that CSMA hosts or even this past forum. More specifically, I've met with many professionals at various conventions and the career that stuck out to me most was conflict journalism. When I see news coverage from Syria or Palestine or Ukraine, I feel that I need to be doing something, and the way I want to help is by promoting help. I feel like the heart of conflict is the worst place to go, but it's also most likely the place that will evoke the most emotion from an audience, meaning my work will have the potential to change the way the world sees various issues.
About Mountain Vista Media
Beyond the debate, the Mountain Vista Media program is an excellent opportunity for students to gain practical real-world experiences that can prepare them for future careers or ignite their passion in journalism, writing or another career.
In fact, a glance at their own dedicated website, VistaNow.org, shows half-a-dozen graduate testimonials crediting MVM as a stepping stone to their current successes, many of whom are now anchoring, reporting, or editing for their college’s TV and media departments.
Utilizing the 4C’s (Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking)—a component of the World Class Education and curriculum conceptualized by Superintendent Liz Fagen and District leadership—the 60 students engaged in MVM work diligently—conceptualizing stories, collaborating together on projects, and publishing school, community, and national stories on multiple outlets including VistaNow.org, Twitter, and Instagram.