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Student newspaper considers options

Naomi Havlen

The future of Aspen High School’s Skier Sentinel newspaper is still in doubt, although school officials think there are two new options for next year’s journalism class.District-wide budget cuts have threatened the future of the high school’s journalism class, which produces the school’s newspaper four times a year. The school will save money by not replacing some teachers who are retiring – or replacing them with part-time teachers. And Principal Kendall Evans said in March that journalism may be one of the classes left without an instructor or adviser.Eleven students have signed up for a journalism class next year.”Normal enrollment in the class is 11 to 15 students, so we can offer this class, and we’re pretty sure that if we can’t cover this in-house, we’ll pursue other ways of covering it,” Evans said this week.There is a new speech and debate instructor who will be teaching at Aspen High School and Aspen Middle School next year. Evans said the school will ask him if the journalism class would fit into his schedule.If not, the school has also learned that there is someone in the community interested in funding the journalism class, although details about this benefactor are sketchy.”I don’t know the name of the person that supposedly offered to fund it. We’d be working through an intermediary,” Evans said. “We have no confirmation on this money – until the check is in the mail, we won’t know.”A new debate programChris Wheatley will be the schools’ new communication, public speaking and debate teacher.Wheatley is currently the chairman of the debate and public speaking department at Pace Academy in Georgia. Although he already has a contract with the Aspen School District, a fund-raiser is under way by the Aspen Institute, the school district and a local coalition of parents to fund his position.The impetus for a speech and debate program came from the local coalition of parents known as SNAP, Schools Need Active Parents. It teamed up with the Aspen Institute to promote a speech and debate program for local schools.”This kind of a program has all sorts of benefits to students – basic communication, public speaking, self-esteem and the ability for kids to formulate their own ideas and opinions,” said Amy Margerum, executive vice president at the Aspen Institute. “It’s proven to help kids throughout life and would benefit every child in the school district.”SNAP member Donna Di Ianni found Wheatley while researching successful debate programs. Pace Academy is a private school in Atlanta that has won numerous debate championships and been lauded for bringing kids from different backgrounds together to compete in debate.In the new program’s first year, Wheatley will split time between Aspen Middle and Aspen High schools, teaching seventh- through 12th-graders. Margerum said Wheatley will also act as a liaison between the institute and the schools.”We want to bring the programs of the Aspen Institute to the children in the community – like the next time we have someone like Madeleine Albright here for a program, Chris Wheatley might think about bringing her up to the schools for an hour,” Margerum said. Evans said he is hopeful that Wheatley could have a hand in the journalism class.”We’d be supportive if he could help – our goal is teaching kids how to think, argue for their viewpoints and how to articulate things,” Margerum said. “Whether that’s with verbal or written communication, it’s all important to education.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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