A school shutdown can't stop a Panther
These words showed up on journalist's social media profiles all over the world at the end of 2014 after the death of Washington Post photojournalist Michel duCille. It was something duCille repeated to colleagues through the years covering crisis. It was how journalists decided to honor his memory.
duCille died of an apparent heart attack while covering, up close and personal, the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
"This is what we do."
Seasoned journalists understand that when large groups of people run one way to get away from danger, journalists must run toward danger to cover it.
But what about high school kids in a journalism class? They are not seasoned veterans and in cases like this year's school shut down, they are not even bound by a curriculum.
For a group of Saegertown High School students who are "The Panther Press," the school's newspaper staff, a grade has not been the motivation for what have been up to since Governor Tom Wolf closed schools on March 13.
Panther Press advisor Stacey Hetrick said that when the school was shut down, she and editor in chief Sam Shelenberger made sure the journalism computer wasn't locked down. They knew they had work to do. They called the staff and made a plan.
Three days later they published the first story in an on-going series called "Saegertown Shutdown Stories."
Since then they have executed and posted at least one story a day on their website thepantherpress.com. They are using pictures and videos and even something called TikTok to communicate with their readers. They even put out their planned newspaper on March 20 with the help of Hetrick who did the layout from her home.
"This is what we do."
Hetrick always tells her students there are 450 stories to tell at Saegertown High School. So when the staff got together online to discuss ideas, it didn't take long to fill up their story board and hand assignments out.
"I'm glad we are able to put out stories for others to see," said Meadow Campbell, Opinions editor. "Journalism is hard, but the end result is amazing. I've noticed that my work doesn't go unnoticed."
She is right.
PENNCREST school board member Jeff Brooks says he is impressed, but not surprised by their effort. "I dont think they are doing the work because they are students, but because [Hetrick] has them living up to the ideals of being journalists. They believe in what they are doing and feel obligated to inform the public. I've seen it from them year after year," Brooks said.
The staff has been interviewed by colleges and journalism publications for their efforts and The Meadville Tribune has been publishing some of their stories.
"This is what we do."
Managing editor Nick Archacki remembers reaching out to Hetrick immediately after hearing about the shutdown. "We couldn't let this virus control everything in our lives. We had to continue writing stories like it was a normal day of school," he said.
Out of the gate Archacki wrote a first person story about living with a woman who could potentially be on the front lines fighting this virus - his mom, a nurse at the Meadville Medical Center.
His story shared a perspective on the virus that helped bring the pandemic closer to home at a time when it hadn’t yet affected local life.
"This is what we do."
The Panther journalists agree that communication is the biggest obstacle they face during the shutdown. In school they could meet as a group, but this has been more one on one or working via an online message board.
"(We are) trying to write the first rough draft of history with everything that has been going on and affecting our community,” Shelenberger said. “I believe it is important to keep publishing these stories because this is a period of time that we are all going to remember."
Showcasing the student talents and profiles have been been fodder for many stories. An art student doing make-up TikTok videos to create her work, how relationships are affected by social distancing, and how the school shutdown is going to effect seniors who have enlisted in the armed forces are all topics the staff has tackled in the last three weeks.
Remember, these are high school students who are experiencing the same things as their classmates - the fear of the unknown, the loss of part of their education lives and the day-to-day struggles of the stay at home orders.
"I've lost my senior year of high school," said Archacki.
But they are still learning new things through the process. Some are getting more one on one time on stories with Hetrick because they have more time - though it is over the phone.
Being a part of telling stories like that has been extremely important to Campbell and her peers who are gaining a better understand their school and community.
"I have learned that my school is more caring than I had thought,” Campbell noted. “Many of the teachers in our school have reached out to various students to make sure they are OK. Our school is offering free meals."
"This is what we do."
For Hetrick, this has been a trying, but rewarding teaching experience. "It has been exciting and humbling to be working with young journalists who are doing this series voluntarily. No points. No grades. They are telling these stories because it is important to do so," she said.
"I just want my staff to know how incredibly proud I am of them and how stubborn we're going to continue to be. We said we're going to publish a story a day, that is our goal and we're going to just keep telling those stories."
"I feel like we're achieving something that not many high schools are, reporting on stories during this time." Archacki said. "It shows how a group of journalists from a little town, can continue to have a voice in the world. It's been a tough time but nothing will stop us from writing."
"This is what we do."
Helping out community with eyes closed
The Franklin Retail and Business Association is hoping to help jump start business downtown through the "Retail Relief Project" begun after Governor Tom Wolf's COVID-19 mitigation efforts closed businesses across the Commonwealth.
"The goal of the project is to raise funds for the sole purpose of issuing gift certificates… in order to flood our participating member locations as soon as they are up and running again," said association president Jess Carroll.
The idea came about after Franklin businessman, Dave Ballard, approached the association wanting to purchase a bunch of gift certificates to give out. He then challenged the association to promote the idea.
Carroll and association vice-president Tony Neidich began to brainstorm. Carroll drew inspiration for the promotion after observing her kids. "I thought about what my kids do when they are bored - they draw." she said. She then added difficulty by covering the eyes to make it even more fun. The "Blindfold Portrait Challenge," was born.
Neidich and Carroll got the promotion started by taking the challenge themselves while making the explanatory video to put out on social media. "We drew each other and cracked up. And there it was, a fun way to raise money and distract ourselves for a moment about the seriousness of the virus."
And now, with art and closed eyes, the association and the community are making some serious cash to help local businesses.
The challenge is simple, you don't have to be a Rembrandt or even a Picasso, in fact, most of the drawings so far resemble the work of a third-grade trouble maker drawing on the desk during detention.
You just have to want to help out your economic community.
The challenge goes like this: get a couple pieces of paper, a marker, find a spot to draw and a way to cover your eyes. Have two people in mind, then set your phone to video, get an assistant or use selfie mode and commence to drawing two portraits in just 30 seconds.
After completing the task, show the "work of art" to the camera and challenge two others to do the same.
Then, if you are able, make a donation of any amount to the retail association’s relief fund.
And don’t forget the final step - share it on social media so the people you challenge know about it and you can inspire others to get involved.
"We will be giving away almost 650 gift certificates throughout the area," Carroll said. "Some of these will be given away specifically through our page and promotions, but the majority will be given away by the members to use for their own promos to get folks into their businesses."
The certificates can be used at more than 50 participating downtown Franklin businesses.
Some other donations have also been coming in that will be used to help out in other ways, Carroll said. "Undesignated funds will be used for those businesses who may just need a bump to get through, to fund promotions to get commerce back up and running, and to prepare for future events and unforeseen circumstances." she explained.
Carroll said a person called this week wanting to donate her stimulus check. A local musician last week held a virtual concert on-line to help. All of these efforts along with the Blindfold Portrait Challenge will help put money back into the local economy and help businesses struggling during this strange time.
“We are proud of the community members who really stepped up to help us. The generosity is humbling and fills my heart with such joy and hope for the future," said Carroll
The challenge will continue until businesses are able to reopen.
Dusting off an old idea
Years ago I began posting a photo a day on a website very similar to this one here. I discovered a photojournalist in up-state New York named Will Yurman, who took and posted a photo a day for several years in a row. Looking through his images, which were great, I realized I was getting a glimpse into the world of a newspaper photographer who was a human being, who had a family and who was fascinated by the world around him enough to make a picture every day to share.
I followed his lead for a few years, but it faded away awhile back for some reason.
I just looked up that photojournalist, who teaches now at Penn State, and he is still at it, over 5,000 days in a row, though I think, he admitted to me once that a nasty flu made him have to double post at least one day.
Anyway, this week I began my latest attempt at maintaining this discipline in hopes that I can share something new each day with you all. This hasn't been easy in this pandemic and this week I admit I'm no Will Yurman, a mild bug slowed me down. But I hope to make this feature something you all look forward to each day. The above image was my first Featured Picture of the day.
They will appear on this website daily for now.
My life lets me meet interesting folk
Share your spring photos
Do you explore life with your camera. I'd love to see your world through your eyes. Soon I am going to start a featured on local artists featuring a very talented observer of the world around her and all around lover of life. I'm also on the look out for short story writers and poets I want to feature on this site and eventually a monthly or weekly publication. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in submitting your work.