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U of M doctoral student helps prepare journalists through Teen Appeal

By Laura Fenton

Teen Appeal assistant coordinator Elle Perry is hard at work proofing pages.
Teen Appeal assistant coordinator Elle Perry is hard at work proofing pages.

For Keona Gardner, it all started with the Teen Appeal.

Without it, she might have never known the world outside of her North Memphis neighborhood.

"It let me know that there was something out there that was better than what you were seeing in your neighborhood," said Gardner, multimedia journalist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida.

Her senior year of high school, Gardner applied to be on the Teen Appeal newspaper staff. Gardner found a deeper love of journalism while on staff and created a foundation that impacted her career.

Created in 1997 by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation and a partnership with The Commercial Appeal and the University of Memphis, the Teen Appeal is distributed monthly to more than 30 Memphis City high schools.

"When Scripps created this partnership, it helped a lot of students, like myself, who see a newspaper every day, but don’t put in a lot of thought to the process of what it takes to be a journalist and what it takes to be a writer," Gardner said. "Those are not careers or professions that you see in the poorer parts of town. If it hadn’t been for them allocating the money, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be in this profession."

Most high schools within the system do not have student-produced newspapers, especially high schools with predominantly African American students.

The Teen Appeal fills this void by informing students about school news and introducing minority students to reading and writing for a newspaper.

Marcus Matthews (BA ‘03, MA ‘08), Teen Appeal coordinator, applied for the first staff of the newspaper after a teacher suggested he give it a try. Now, 15 years later, he provides students with the same encouragement, direction and mentoring that his teachers and Teen Appeal staff gave him.

"You can’t put on paper how much of an impact programs like this have on people’s lives," said Matthews, who is a U of M doctoral student and an author. "If someone had told me that I was going to work for a newspaper, then write books, then write movies, I’d be like, whatever. But it’s happened."

Marcus Matthews, a doctoral candidate in higher and adult education at the University of Memphis and author of I Am Not the Father, is coordinator of The Teen Appeal newspaper program, which is housed on the U of M campus and is funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation. (Photo by Dave Darnell/The Commercial Appeal)
Marcus Matthews, a doctoral candidate in higher and adult education at the University of Memphis and author of I Am Not the Father, is coordinator of The Teen Appeal newspaper program, which is housed on the U of M campus and is funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation. (Photo by Dave Darnell/The Commercial Appeal)

Each year, hundreds of students apply for the 75-100 positions on staff. Selected students attend a week long camp, hosted at the U of M, to get a crash course in journalism.

During the school year, students meet once a month at the U of M to choose the stories for the upcoming edition of the paper. Each student is responsible for selecting article topics relating to his or her school, known as their "beat."

To ensure every student can participate, the program provides bus passes for students to use to get from school to the U of M campus, and from campus to home. Students can also come back to campus any day to use the computer lab for writing. To date, more than 1,500 students have been on staff.

Sudeshna Barman, sophomore at White Station High School, always knew she wanted to be on a high school newspaper staff. She was disappointed to find she could not join her school’s paper as a freshman, so she reached out to the Teen Appeal to jumpstart her writing experience.

"Sometimes I think, ‘Why did I sign up for Teen Appeal? This is a lot of work,’" she said. "And then, I see my name in print."

Outside of the articles she has for her portfolio, Barman gained two more things: self-confidence and responsibility.

Her first months on staff, she found it nerve-racking to get people to talk to her. But she overcame her shyness and now has no problem saying, "I need an interview. Come and talk to me at this time."

Although Barman doesn’t know where she wants to attend college or what she wants to choose as a major, she is positive she wants to have a solid base in journalism. Being on the Teen Appeal staff gives her the reassurance that she is cut out for writing.

"All of Memphis City Schools and all the students, they’re getting this (newspaper), so they’re hearing about all the cool stuff at White Station. I get to tell all the kids in all Memphis City Schools how awesome White Station is. I guess that’s what writing is about, it’s about communicating."

Graduating seniors are also eligible for a $1,000 renewable scholarship that can be used at any university, provided they major or minor in journalism or mass media and keep a 2.0 GPA. Only two awards will be given out this year. Previous years, four students received the scholarship.

The Teen Appeal will celebrate its 15th anniversary this summer. Visit http://www.teenappeal.com or contact Marcus Matthews at 678-4710 to find out more about the Teen Appeal or the anniversary celebration.

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