by Linda Barrington
Mentoring Committee co-chair

It isn’t easy being a green new media adviser, and five JEA mentees shared their experiences in a panel discussion at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association convention in Anaheim, Calif., last Saturday.

The mentees from left to right are Melissa Dixon (Birmingham, Ala.), Jody Evans (Tuscaloosa, Ala.), Erica Hand (Milwaukie, Ore.), Greg Reilly (Machesney Park, Ill.) and Anna Horton (Phoenix, Ariz.). Photo by Linda Barrington.

Mentee Erica Hand (Milwaukie, Ore.) spoke frankly about the reaction to her students’ article that explored the reasons for the school’s football team’s losing season. The football players were angry: they complained to the principal and harassed the writers.

“I was on an island all by myself,” Hand said. “But I have a mentor [Bill Flechtner], and that’s what keeps me surviving.”

Mentee Melissa Dixon (Birmingham, Ala.) talked about the time when her students wrote about the writing and graffiti in the student bathrooms at school. It was difficult to decide how specific to be in describing what was written there, and the advice of her mentor, Marie Parsons, helped them to consider the effects of what they would decide to publish.

Only an hour away from Birmingham, Parsons’ other mentee, Jody Evans, was in Tuscaloosa, dealing with a similar issue with her broadcast staff.  Evans explained how on Christmas Eve at 4:30, Parsons called her on the phone because the issue was weighing on her mind.  They talked for an hour and a half, looking at all angles of the problem, anticipating consequences for various actions and eventually arriving at a sound decision.

In Machesney Park, Ill., mentee Greg Reilly said he was initially apprehensive about joining the mentoring program because of his experience with his district mentoring program which required a lot of paperwork and meetings.

“Babs [Erickson] has been my advocate. It hasn’t been extra work. She shows me my strengths and weaknesses. I definitely recommend having a JEA mentor. It has enhanced my experience having such an adviser,” Reilly said.

Mentee Anna Horton (Phoenix, Ariz.) agreed with Reilly, saying that having Carmen Wendt as her mentor makes her keep pushing her own students to do more.

“I really look forward to the time I spend talking with Carmen,” Horton said. “She has helped me decide how to handle difficult topics in respectful and responsible ways.”

JEA Mentor Program Committee member Nick Ferentinos said, “Mentors tailor their mentoring to each mentor.”

It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience, so that no two mentees are getting the same experience, Ferentinos said. The mentors are experienced journalism educators. As such they inspire, direct, problem-solve and can advocate for their mentees in their schools and outside their buildings.

Evans said that was true for her in Alabama.

“Marie went to my principal and said, ‘Do you know what a gold mine you have in your broadcast program?’”

That made a difference in her school, just as JEA mentors are making a difference in more than a hundred schools across the country.

One of the mentees said, “We need a bumper sticker that says, ‘We [heart] our JEA mentors.’”