Newspapers keep us informed about what is going on, as well as what is going right, and what is going wrong. Our founding fathers found newspapers to be so vital to our free and democratic society that the very first constitutional amendment protected the press from unwarranted interference or control by the government. Thomas Jefferson even went so far as to intone that, if given the choice, he would prefer newspapers without government over government without newspapers. Public newspapers are the only safeguard of the public liberty, Jefferson said. I was curious as to whether the Marco Island Academy (MIA) students were aware of these precepts when writing for their school newspaper.
On a balmy December 2017 morning, I visited Keith Scalia’s journalism class at MIA to see what he was doing to encourage would be journalists and writers. Scalia had previously taught English at a Manhattan inner city high school, where he had involved his students in producing pieces which when published, actually affected public opinion at some pretty high levels of government. (See Keith Scalia, Parts One and Two at coastalbreezenews.com.) On this day however, Scalia and MIA senior, Jenna McKee, were working on the next edition of MIA’s much improved student newspaper, The Wave. McKee, the student Editor in Chief, and Scalia, the journalism teacher, sat side by side at the head of the class. It was a partnership of the equal.
Each had their own desk, computer, and high-backed desk chair. Scalia was dispatching students to cover breaking stories on campus, providing them with Wave press passes and access to where they needed to go. He was also soliciting ideas for additional stories. At the same time, McKee, the Editor in Chief, was meeting, one by one, with a procession of students, who were coming up to her desk, suggesting ideas and helping them with the stories they were working on. In the midst of all this, the student staff writers in the rest of the classroom, labored on their stories at their desks. There was no down time for anyone in this class.
McKee, who came up through the Marco Island school system, made it a point to take every one of the five English courses taught by Scalia. “There is a lot of writing in Mr. Scalia’s classes,” she said, “I have always had a passion for writing.” She wants to write fiction and short stories and felt that Scalia could help her to get there. She has decided on the University of Florida or South Florida because they have the best English departments. Coming into her senior year, Journalism was the only one of Scalia’s classes McKee hadn’t taken. On her first day there, Scalia told Jenna that he had chosen her to be his editor in chief for The Wave. It has been an all-consuming job for her.
Scalia had been observing McKee for the last two years in his English classes and knew exactly what he was getting in Jenna. “She has a skill set which is rare among high school students,” Scalia said, “It’s how she worked with students last year, helping them with their writing. She took whatever time was necessary to help them proceed. She was patient with them, but exhibited firmness when that was called for. That’s the kind of person you want as a newspaper editor in chief. There aren’t too many around like Jenna.” From that day on, McKee has had the final say in consultation with Scalia, on what goes in to the Wave.
The Wave has been published off and on since at least 2013. The second issue in December 2014 was just three pages of nine articles, all but two about sports. Five of them were written by the same person.
In 2015, a splashy, expanded, full color Wave arrived. It listed a staff of 17 students, with faculty advisor, Sandy Castillo and Editor in Chief, Kasey Bersh. The paper led off with a comprehensive in depth expose’ by freshman Teagan Havemeier and senior Lily Rosenblum exploring why MIA had to borrow $2M to purchase its current site, even though the Collier School Board owned a vacant tract twice as large on Marco Island. The paper was starting to get into some nitty gritty stuff.
The latest issue of The Wave is by far the best (of the four issues) I have seen. The paper, in a snappy new format, has shown a willingness to address some larger controversial issues. Even parts of MIA’s curriculum are not exempt from scrutiny. Issues such as the environment (which got the whole front page), feminism and sexual harassment (particularly the Me Too movement), and contributions of female immigrants from third world countries are getting space. An article expressing concern about the protection of students from attacks by military grade weapons is in the works, says Scalia.
There is a reason why this paper is addressing more controversial issues. Since he began teaching in 2001, Keith Scalia, who took over as The Wave’s faculty advisor in September 2017, has always used such issues as a teaching tool to get his students involved. He wanted them to know that their voices could make a difference. By any measure, he has been wildly successful. He is doing the same thing here.
But why are feminist issues getting most of the attention? Of the eight editors, seven are female. The eighth is the digital editor. Those seven girls, many of whom are also campus leaders, decide what goes into The Wave. They are running the place, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Scalia is able attract a lot of talented students into The Wave.
Sophomore Ryan Sullivan, considered indispensable by Scalia, is the lone male editor. He is in charge of the website (themiawave.org) and the digital edition of the paper. He assists McKee in the layout of the paper and facilitates getting it over to the Coastal Breeze News (CBN) for publishing. The CBN has been publishing The Wave at no charge and making their facilities available to The Wave staff for the past three years. The CBN includes it as a section in their paper, which is then distributed to CBN dispensers throughout the island and Naples. CBN also includes The Wave in their digital edition, giving it the widest possible circulation.
Sullivan is not only responsible for the sharp new look of The Wave, but he gets the student body involved. He has polled the students on such questions as, “Is it morally correct to shop on Black Friday?” (21 yes, 31 no); “Should we serve breakfast?” (70 yes, 15 don’t care); “Does global warming exist?” (27 yes, 23 no); “Is the Earth flat?” (14 yes, 60 no) and the most controversial, “Is chess a sport?” (43 yes, 43 no), an astounding response of about 40% of the MIA student body.
Keith Scalia and Jenna McKee share a dream for the future of The Wave. “Three years ago, the kids were crumbling [The Wave] up and throwing it into the wastebasket,” McKee says, “This year students are asking when the paper will be coming out and offering to write articles.” McKee wants the school to get more publicity but more importantly she wants the students to know that they have a platform to express themselves without being censored. They should be able to say what they want to say, she says.
But not without taking into consideration, MIA’s reputation in the community, says Scalia. He has three rules for publication of the students’ articles: 1. They must represent the school well; 2. They must be politically correct, and 3. They must be appropriate for public consumption. “Other than that, I let them find their own voice.” That’s just another way of getting them to think for themselves, something Scalia has inculcated in his students during his 17 years of teaching. Now, he has a dandy school newspaper and a crack Editor in Chief to do it with.