This story was awarded first place by the Kansas Press Association for best Youth Story.

April 27, 2017 “How a teacher prepared her students to take on the adults and win

The week after Amy Robertson had been hired as the new principal at Pittsburg High School, Emily Smith, the journalism teacher there, gathered her student editors and a couple of other writers who were hanging around, took them into a back room and shut the door.

While trying to research Robertson for a profile story, one of the students had found some problems with her background. The student had looked Robertson up on Google and found that her education consulting firm in Dubai appeared to have been reported for violations.

Then Smith looked up the name of the university Robertson said she had attended, Collins. Smith’s son is named Collin, so she wasn’t likely to get it wrong, and she wrote down the college’s name twice.
But when Smith Googled the university, nothing came up; it appeared as if the university didn’t exist. She thought she might be going crazy.

So she set up a meeting with school superintendent Destry Brown.

To her relief, Brown said that the university Robertson had attended was actually called Corlinns. But Brown said he would help the students set up a Skype interview with Robertson, who was still living in Dubai, so they could have her clear up any confusion.

However, a quick search of Corlinns University that night revealed articles that characterized it as a diploma mill.

So during study hall, Smith took those six students, handed out stapled packets containing the information discovered so far and told them they had to decide what they wanted to do about it. She walked out of the room and let them discuss their options.

Connor Balthazor was not an editor, he just happened to be around when Smith needed another writer. This felt like a big responsibility.

“She trusted me to be a part of that process,” Balthazor remembers thinking. “I didn’t want to let her down or any of the other five writers down.”

When Smith returned to the room, the students had come to a decision: This is important, and we have to write something about this, they told her.

Their decision that day would change each of their young lives in dramatic fashion, throwing them into the national spotlight and earning them an invitation to the White House Correspondents Dinner.

But it was a decision Smith had been preparing students to make for the past seven years….Continue reading

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