Epworth out loud and proud

By Denbigh Maurer

During my first year at Epworth, I decided to start a journalling group.

I naïvely envisaged that the girls could meet, share their writing and interact meaningfully with the thoughts and ideas of their peers. (You know, the kind of high school experience about which they make cheesy TV movies?) I was thrilled when several girls expressed an interest, but my excitement waned when I discovered that they had intended to sign up for a journalism group. In short, they were not interested in journalling at all. They wanted to start a school newspaper, and so Epworth Out Loud (now fondly known as EOL) was born.

It seems like yesterday, but all of this happened almost five years (and 40 issues) ago. The girls who started EOL have since matriculated, and some have gone on to join student newspapers at their respective universities. It is rewarding to know that there are aspiring doctors, accountants, attorneys and politicians out there with an appreciation for the power of the media and the ability to write a coherent press release.

Inaugural ‘journos’ had ideas and passion

The inaugural group of Grades 8 and 9 girls had passion in bucket loads. They even remained undaunted by the publication of a rival newspaper (which only lasted one issue, in the end). I am one of the school’s debating coaches, and many of hese girls were debaters (a situation that remains unchanged today). Part of debating training involves having interesting – or unusual or unpopular – ideas. These girls had all three, and were willing to share them with the world – or at least with their peers, to begin with.

Starting out, we really didn’t know what we were getting into. We met in my classroom, discussed article ideas, typed them up and gamely handed them over to our layout and design editor to work her magic. Things were much slower then, but somehow we have managed to publish a 16-page newspaper twice per term ever since. What’s more, a large number of pupils and staff willingly pay to subscribe every year.

A prestigious award acknowledges hard work

Nowadays, we have an executive committee that oversees the running of the newspaper. These elected positions are considered to be leadership roles, and both committee members and journalists are eligible to receive awards for their service and performance. When they matriculated, the 2009 Matrics donated the EOL Founders’ Award, which is a trophy to be awarded every year to one of the EOL executive or journalists who has made a significant contribution to the newspaper.

Current content is varied, and includes an editorial, poetry, creative writing, an agony aunt column, cartoons, jokes, riddles, fashion advice, a religious column and more. Past cover features have addressed issues from xenophobia to e-mail spam. Some articles have sparked lively debate, and others have prompted angry letters to the editor. All have provided insight into the issues that matter to South African teenagers today.

Many benefits

The benefits of this accidental endeavour have been many and varied. First and foremost, the girls have learned to think critically about issues that matter to them. They have been free to write about matters of personal interest, and they have learned to be held accountable for that which they write. Irate letters to the editor have prompted editorials that then explained the thinking behind the article, or which promised changes to EOL in future.

The girls have also learned about the real world, where articles accidentally get omitted or where things go wrong, and they have then developed strategies to overcome these difficulties in subsequent issues. Some girls have been brave enough to write about bereavement, divorce and family dynamics, and have courageously shared their thoughts with the public. Every bold decision, mistake and success has shaped EOL as it is today.

Another benefit of starting EOL has been the interaction with journalists and teachers from neighbouring schools. Every year, the executive and journalists of EOL host an annual school newspaper evening. These have taken different forms – from listening to student journalists from the local university, to making presentations about each school’s newspaper, and even collaborative writing. The evening encouraged one school to start its own newspaper, and persuaded another to revive its paper, which had been in retirement.

Collaboration another by-product

Following one of these evenings, the editor of EOL and the editor of the newspaper at a local boys’ school started to share articles so that EOL could contain content written from a male perspective, and the boys could get some insight into the minds of young women. Learning about the fictional vampire Twilight series from the perspective of a teenage boy was quite an eye-opener!

All of this might sound like a great deal of work but, as with most things, it is a case of working smarter, not harder. Our newspaper is published twice every term, with a total of eight issues per year. We have an established system, where girls save their articles in a special folder set up by the Information Technology department. The layout and design editor (my right-hand girl) then sets a deadline for completion and pastes the articles into MS Publisher. She completes the newspaper over a weekend and then gives it to me on a flash drive for some quick editing. The English teacher within me has had to calm down and remember that this is a pupil-driven publication that won’t always be perfect!

I then use the photocopier to print the required number of copies and the newspapers are then given the finishing touches, and are delivered into registration classes during our weekly newspaper session. The girls really do enjoy seeing their names in print and receiving compliments or challenges from their friends. You might be asking how your school can afford to run a school newspaper, in terms of both time and money. Given the benefits to pupils, staff and school, my question to you is this – can you afford not to have one?

Denbigh Maurer is an educational psychologist and History teacher at Epworth Independent High School for Girls.


Category: Winter 2011

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Comments (2)

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  1. Non:) says:

    What else will keep us out of trouble 😛 Not to sound corney, but it has changed our lives and caused us heart attacks (When it’s due in THREE DAYS!!!).

    We’re all proud to be a part of it, so thanks 🙂


  2. Cath says:

    I came upon this, while I’m busying editing the first issue of EOL for this year. I wish we still collaborated with other schools, but we’re trying to get that back. I was so happy when I stumbled across this, because EOL is one of my biggest passions, and I’m proud of the team. Even if some years there has been hardly any girls, but we always aim to keep a standard 16 pages.

    We sometimes have cheeky afternoons where we bring food and chill and discuss the next issue. We still aim to spread awareness about serious topics but we also include articles that show off our Epworth girls, weather it be a poem, short story and some amazing sports achievements. I’m proud of it and will never stop being.

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