by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

This time next week, more than 4,000 high school journalism students and teachers will be attending the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association Convention in Anaheim. The convention is a highlight of the school year for students and teachers alike as they have several days focused only on journalism and have a break from the regular school routine.

Here are 10 tips to help you, as the adviser, in your planning to make this a great convention for you and your students. (And these tips certainly apply to other conventions, too.)

1. Download the program before the convention even begins.

Most conventions post the program on their website days and even weeks before the convention starts. Your students can become more excited about the trip and focused on the learning aspect of the convention by seeing the program.

2. Discuss how to select sessions.

As the students review the program, discuss what you as a group want to get out of attending the convention. Going to a convention is expensive (for the publication and/or for the individual students who are attending and their parents). So it’s important to get the most from your money. What are the major needs for individual students and/or for the staff? Interviewing, ad sales, design, creating multimedia for the publication’s website? Once you’ve identified the needs, the students can be looking for sessions that meet those needs.

3. Read the session descriptions.

Some sessions have a catchy title that doesn’t always provide a summary of what the session will be about.  Session descriptions also can provide key information, such as pre-registration is required or that the session is for advisers only.

4. Determine which sessions require advance registration – and fees.

At the JEA/NSPA convention, a number of really interesting sessions require advance registration. On Thursday, a number of pre-convention activities are offered. Tours are available to locations including the Los Angeles Times and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Angels Stadium, Surfer Magazine. The fee for each tour is $15 to cover transportation. Hands-on computer workshops during the convention do not have a fee but do require advance registration due to the limited number of computers.

5. Sign up to participate in a contest.

Even for staffs attending the convention for the first time, participating in one of the more than 40 contests can be a highlight of the convention. Most of the conventions involve students participating in an activity and completing a project in two hours and then having their work judged. Students may hear a presentation from a special speaker and write a feature or receive materials to create a yearbook layout.

6. Make a list of sessions and activities along with their room locations.

That list provides a quick reference to help you move from one session to the next. Having a backup session for each time period is a good plan, as sometimes a session may be filled when you arrive. You don’t want to loose time getting into another session by having to read through the program to find an alternate session.

7. Check out the convention layout and have the map with you.

More than 4,000 students will be attending the JEA/NSPA convention in Anaheim. That requires many rooms and auditoriums. Having a map not only helps you get to the location for your session but can, in some cases, help you decide if you can make it from one session to the next session in the 10 minutes between sessions.

8. Avoid having the pack approach to session attendance.

Yes, having several students from the staff attend a session can make them more comfortable, as they will be with classmates. Sometimes that’s a good idea if several on the staff need to learn about the same topic. But having the students divide up lets them hear a wider variety of sessions. Also by being solo at a session, your student is more likely to strike up a conversation with another student, often learning about that student’s publication.

9. Build in time to eat – as a group.

Sessions run almost constantly from 8 a.m. meetings for advisers until 11:30 p.m. when the student dance ends. In planning activities allocate a time when the staff can meet for meals. That enables you to do an attendance check several times during the day, and the time together will enable them to share what they are learning.

10. Remember to make a little time for yourself.

You have your responsibilities as the adviser and chaperone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include an activity or two of special interest to you. Having time to browse the JEA Bookstore or the Exhibit Hall, attending one of the adviser receptions or visiting with a colleague from across the country. If you really want to see that other person, don’t leave it to chance that you’ll see each other. With everything going on, your schedules might never match for a visit. So contact your friend ahead of time to set aside time to at least visit over a coffee.