The staff of Brush & Palette, the newspaper staff of Laguna Beach High School, Laguna Beach, Calif.

By Konnie Krilslock
California Mentor

Returning to the Laguna Beach High School journalism classroom two years after completing my assignment as mentor to adviser James Brusky, I noticed little had changed. The small staff was enthusiastic and engaged, the bulletin boards were papered with more than three years of laminated Brush & Palette front pages and work had begun on the next monthʼs issue.

Four years ago, Brusky and I had embarked on our journey with one goal in mind: to make his after-school journalism program a real journalism class at the almost 1,000-student campus. Thanks to supportive administrative team members, we were successful.

Now, Brusky and his two editors, Andrew and Karina, requested I guide them in a more sophisticated discussion of student rights and professional journalism responsibilities because of an opinion piece on school dance breathalyzer tests that had appeared in the last issue.

Brusky, in an email to me, indicated that he had invited the three administrators on his campus — the principal and two assistant principals — to attend the presentation.

(Note: I know some media advisers and mentors might wonder if the administrators would attend the presentation with the journalism students. Well, the administrators were there and supportive.)

“Iʼm happy to meet you. Thank you for helping our students,” Gretchen Ernsdorf, assistant principal, said as she introduced herself to me.

During the discussion with the Brush & Palette staff, many of whom are new this semester, we touched on “Job #1: Information” as a starting point of something essential in news gathering on campus.

I firmly believe that any editorial or opinion piece should have been preceded by or accompanied by a news article on that subject with balanced coverage.

Even though students may think “everyone knows” the subject, breathalyzer tests at formal dances, for instance, few know all the facts.

I advised the editors and writers that it is their job, in my opinion, to disseminate that information in a non-biased, balanced manner, before giving opinions on the subject.

During this part of the presentation, Dr. Joanne Culverhouse, principal, had joined the group. “I truly enjoyed your presentation to the Journalism class,” she said later. “I also enjoyed participating in the discussion,” she continued.

What Culverhouse relayed to the students was a more in-depth understanding of why teachers and administrators must “protect students” first in all student activities even though some of those protections might, to the students, seem heavy-handed.

Culverhouse said she meets regularly with the two Brush & Palette editors and encourages them to come to her when they are on deadline.

“We believe you are important, and we will make time for you when you need our help with information,” she said. “We believe you are doing a wonderful job and provide a great service to our school.”

Exchanging ideas with staff writers, Culverhouse explained several “new” issues that might warrant future Brush & Pallet coverage, including a recent department chairmen’s meeting discussion of cheating and a collaboration with the local community college that would streamline LBHS student admissions processes.

The conversation continued for more than an hour. Both Culverhouse and Ernsdorf remained after class was over.

“It is so valuable for students and teachers to connect with a mentor.” Ernsdorf wrote me later in the day. “Your experience is valuable to all of us at LBHS and we appreciate your dedication to the field of journalism.”

No: it is me who should be thanking both of you. And I am.