The Heights

Kingsbury High’s student media team shapes the school's narrative

Kingsbury High School's newly-established media program and its 20-student staff highlight the school’s diverse people and programs and create space for the school’s community to find its voice.

The media team said their school doesn’t get much press and when it does it’s often not positive, but students and staff are dedicated to building a thriving learning environment and deserve a spotlight.

“We’re trying to stand out; we’re not trying to stay in the shadows,” said Leah Boone-Stewart, a staff writer with the new Flying Falcon student news site that went live in mid-September.

Looking long term, the school's goal is to build a nationally recognized media program that becomes a model for schools across the country.

“I’m hoping it will get big enough where we’re able to compete,” said Nickcolus Blakemore, a Flying Falcons staff writer and editor who transferred to Kingsbury from Germantown High School and is familiar with its powerhouse student media program. Germantown High's media program has won more than 40 local, regional, and national awards since 1983.

Malorie Paine is the Kingsbury team’s faculty coordinator. She has a background in journalism and was hired in March to teach journalism and speech and communications courses, as well as launch the after school student media program. She too is thinking big.

“I want them to be nationally known … to be on the national competition level, to be a force to be reckoned with, to be a name like Germantown [High School] that everyone knows,” said Paine.

The Flying Falcon site launched with funding from a Lausanne Learning grant. The online publication documents the school’s people and events. Early articles and photo essays have covered homecoming week, which kicked off October 15. A section called New Arrivals highlights Kingsbury High staff members.

The media team will soon add a podcast and videos branded under the KHS Live! division.

In August, the team began meeting once a week. They fill every role of a traditional print and television newsroom — editors, writers, photographers, anchors, production crew, even marketing and PR. 

“It’s definitely a student [led] program, I just kind of watch them,” said Paine. “I had a vision of what this program would be when I started. I came from USA Today, I have a professional journalism background, and they blew me away like two weeks into [it].”

Research shows that kids involved in student journalism programs have higher ACT scores, more advanced vocabularies, better grades, and greater success in their first years of college. They also learn skills that are applicable across any future profession. The work is collaborative and project-based like many professional environments, and students learn how to manage time and workflow as well as how to plan and schedule for deadlines. Participation also improves writing, communications, research, reasoning, and social skills.

“I talk to a lot of important people, I go to different events and I’m in different organizations,” said staff writer and photographer James Potts. “In order for me to speak with them, speak well with them, and get my thoughts across, I have to get my interviewing skills, my people skills up.”

Working with Paine has already improved his photography skills.

“I can use that to go take photos for other people. Like tomorrow I’m going to take photos for an event,” he said.

Flying Falcon staff writer Leah Boone-Stewart (R) interviews Lanaya Hamilton (L) and Bionica Barnes for an article. (Flying Falcon)
The benefits of media clubs can be especially important for schools like Kingsbury. In 2015, its graduation rate was 61.4 percent and its average ACT score was 15.8, far below the state’s current average of 20.1. Ninety percent of its students are considered economically disadvantaged.

But its students describe the school as inspiring, welcoming and engaging with dedicated staff and diverse. The student body is 53 percent Hispanic or Latino, 33 percent Black or African-American, 9 percent white, and 5 percent Asian, African, Middle Eastern or multiracial. According to the school’s records, there are 25 languages spoken in the homes of Kingsbury students.

“Kingsbury is a really really inspiring school ... they just welcome anyone,” said Boone-Stewart.

“If we get this big enough, we can show them what Kingsbury really is,” added staff writer Marquavious Wray.

The student journalists said the school is often stereotyped as being violent, low-performing, and lacking in enrichment.

“We’re not what people say,” said staff writer Sha'Zariea Rogers. “We’re better and we’re smarter and we get better everyday … We just want everybody to listen to us because we are students here and we do learn here.” 

“Getting all sides to the truth is really what I’ve told them ... over and over again ... because really at its heart that’s what journalism is,” said Paine.

Flying Falcon staff writer Sha'Zariea Rogers interviews a staff member. (MaKenzie White/Flying Falcon)
As a first step to defining their own narrative, the media team launched a new segment called Shadows of Kingsbury to showcase the school's clubs and activities. Recently, the media team produced a video about ACT prep tips and they're developing a segment that highlights the school's custodial staff.

Related: “Kingsbury High grows health and entrepreneurship with city’s first student-led farmers market

The team is also looking towards expansion. In November, Paine and juniors Angie Vega and Kimberly Rodriguez will travel to the National High School Journalism Conference in Chicago.

“This convention is kind of focused around being able to incorporate podcasts into the overall story,” said Paine. “Once we get that knowledge, we’ll be able to start [podcasting].”

“The convention will provide [Vega and Rodriguez] the opportunity to network with both professional and student journalists from around the country,” she said. “Most of the students have never been outside of their communities.”

The media team's next steps in ramping up production are publishing content daily and meeting twice weekly. Morning announcements are currently conducted over the intercom system but will soon move to a twice-daily KHS Live! broadcast. Students in Paine's journalism class will also get the chance to contribute and help widen the publication’s voice and perspective, and the media group is looking for journalists and production professionals, especially those with broadcast experience, to guest lecture or serve as mentors. 

“While I can teach them what I know, what I know isn’t everything by no means, so it’s awesome to have other people,” said Paine.

Paine said she keeps abreast of what nationally-recognized programs are doing and she sees Kingsbury on the same trajectory.

“It’s really cool to see that we’re tracking along with what the best is doing and I very strongly feel like we’re going to be there,” she said.

She also said the program is growing in popularity, and 16 of the current 20 journalists are juniors who will likely return next year, so she anticipates a solid foundation on which to build. Students say they’ll be back because of Paine’s dedication, and the opportunities the program creates. Potts said he enjoys meeting people and Rogers said the program, “makes me feel like I’m doing more not only for other people but for myself.”

Boone-Stewart said it’s a chance to improve her writing and interviewing skills, but mostly it’s the thrill of chasing a lead.

“It’s like storm chasing,” she said. "It’s exciting."

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and applied anthropologist. Since 2011, Cole has worked as a researcher, strategist, and community engagement specialist across the city's private, public, and non-profit sectors. Passionate about storytelling, they began contributing to High Ground News in 2017.
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