IJEA Blog: The lasting lessons of a high school journalism education

As the Feb. 15 deadline nears for entering the 2017 Illinois Journalist of the Year contest, former IJOY Alexandria Johnson offers her reflections on what scholastic journalism has meant to her. Now working for Northwestern's Center for Civic Engagement, Alexandria says she's still using the lessons she learned from high school journalism to help others.

February 13, 2017

Exposure to high school journalism classes changed my life. As a reporter and editor for The Pacer newspaper at Rolling Meadows High School, I had the opportunity to report on real stories affecting my peers and community, while simultaneously cultivating a personal appreciation for journalism and civic engagement.

I remember sharing the story of a teacher with skin cancer who wanted students to understand the risks of using tanning beds like she did. I investigated the arrest of our football coach and why our school was failing state standards. I also introduced my peers to new staff at the school through profiles and reported on our teams’ victories, recognition and unique experiences.

My rich experiences as a high school newspaper student set me on a path toward journalistic discovery. Upon graduating, I attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where I pursued as many opportunities as possible to become a well-rounded journalist.

I found passions in investigative reporting, social justice journalism and video storytelling. I investigated a murder case for the Medill Justice Project, created a documentary, taught journalism to high school students and interned for local TV stations, among other enriching experiences before graduating with both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in June 2015.

After graduation, I found myself wondering how to combine my diverse journalistic interests in a job. High school journalism sparked my passion for writing and investigating. College also exposed me to the power of journalism as an educational tool and catalyst for social change. Six years after being honored by the Illinois Journalism Education Association as the 2011 Illinois Journalist of the Year, I’m still using the lessons I learned from high school journalism to grow and help others.

High school journalism taught me the importance of caring for my community and school, which I continue to do through my work at Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement, telling stories and running programs to expose students to experiential learning and community engagement.

High school journalism taught me to expose wrongdoings and advocate for fairness and accountability, which I addressed through my work as a Fellow for the Social Justice News Nexus and continue through my reporting for the online blog.

High school journalism taught me to share my love for journalism and empower others to find their voices, which I strive for through my work teaching the Medill Media Teens journalism mentorship program for South Side youth.

I’m forever thankful for my high school journalism education and am confident it will continue to serve myself and others in the future.

Alexandria Johnson was named the 2011 Illinois High School Journalist of the Year after serving as reporter and editor for the Rolling Meadows High School student newspaper, The Pacer. She graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2015 and now works at Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement. 

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