SIKESTON - Sikeston Senior High may not be the largest school in the state, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in student achievement.
Take the Bulldog Barker for example. Recently it earned All-Missouri for 2002. The first-place state award recognizes outstanding achievement in individual reporting, layout design and photography as well as overall coverage by newspaper and yearbook staffs.
"Super job overall," a judge wrote about the Barker. "You're producing a quality journalistic product for your community that captures the events of your high school and how it relates to the city of Sikeston."
The Bulldog Barker won in the medium-sized school category (enrollment of 700 to 1,300) along with the Globe at Clayton High School in Clayton, The Prep Times at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, The Criterion at Hickman Mills High School in Kansas City, Panorama at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis and The Panther Times at Raymore-Peculiar High School in Peculiar.
"When I see the names of the other schools, I think it speaks very well for our administration and for our school board for allowing us to have equipment and programs so that these students can excel in the area of journalism," remarked Sally Lape, Barker adviser. "We won this back to back in 1998 and 1999 and this will be our third time. I'm extremely proud of the students' hard work and their dedication. I think that their school is very proud of them for what they've done."
For more than 75 years the Missouri Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) has worked with state scholastic journalism programs of all sizes to help advisers and students improve scholastic journalism in Missouri.
Lauren Deane, the Barker's news editor, said she was excited to learn they'd won but admitted she wasn't completely surprised.
"I thought it was really neat," said the 18-year-old. "We work really hard on the Barker, we try to make the stories really good, and I felt like all of our hard work paid off. I kind of felt like there was a possibility we would win, though, because we do work so hard on it and Mrs. Lape really helps us to make sure everything's perfect. We try really hard and we don't goof off, we try our very best."
"It was awesome," chimed in Chris Cota, the Barker's sports editor. "I think we won because we work really hard, we're working in here all the time. We come in three or four times a week and we stay until about 8 or 9 at night. We're pretty dedicated, it means a lot to us. We get a good paper out because it reflects on the staff."
Andrew Hedrick said he was surprised to find out the Barker won this year because it didn't the previous year and he didn't see a big difference in the newspapers. "I think maybe one thing it was is that we did a lot more serious topics this year. Last year we did people in our school and this year we did national topics and how it affected people in our school."
Anna Romero, executive director of MIPA, said she believes journalism should be practiced at an early age to prepare young people for college and in the field of journalism.
"I can see the difference between students who write in their scholastic years compared to those who come into college with less experience," said Romero, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism at University of Missouri. "Students like those at Sikeston High School are able to hit the community sooner and know how to interview, write, follow-up stories, etc. I think awards (such as All-Missouri) give young people the encouragement to keep doing quality work and shows them where they're at compared to other students in the state."
What it has given Lape's students is a wealth of invaluable learning experiences. Not only does it teach them responsibility and accountability, but it also serves as a way to bring young people out of their shyness.
"We put out a biweekly newspaper and a lot of these schools only put one out once a month or they may only put it out once every three weeks which I think speaks extremely well for these kids," Lape said. "We have also found out that it's a rarity for schools to have a darkroom which I think is another tool that gives students an edge on artistic development, it's a skill they can take with them."
Students sign up to be on the Bulldog Barker their sophomore year and those selected come on board the following year. Recommended by their teachers, staff members must have good grades and a good attendance record.
"I've learned that it takes a lot of hard work and it can be very frustrating because you have to interview all the people and there's so much more that goes into it than people realize," Deane said.
Seventeen-year-old Cota agreed that putting out the newspaper is more responsibility that he had anticipated. "Getting quotes, getting everything put together and edited, it was a lot more responsibility than I was ready for actually," he confessed.
"Being sports editor has taught me a lot actually," Cota said. "I think what surprised me the most are the different personalities that you can bring together and still come out with a good product. We don't always hang out together out of the classroom but once we get in here we work pretty well and can usually get things done."
As the newspaper's computer layout editor, 18-year-old Hedrick said he has come to several realizations. "I've learned that you can't always count on people to get done with things on time," he joked. "I think that I have grown, I've learned how to work as part of a team. More importantly, I've also gotten a sense of responsibility. In other classes I might think well I don't have to do this homework or something but I know that I have to go to the Barker because I have a responsibility, people are counting on me."
But don't get them wrong. They all said along with the hard work is a lot of fun and togetherness. For many, the newspaper staff has become a second family.
"We do have a lot of fun in here together and try to make the best of it," Deane said. "I didn't know working at something that was so hard could be that much fun."
As she looked around at her 2001-2002 Bulldog Barker staff, Lape reflected on the difference two years has made. When asked if the students have changed since their first day on the Barker staff, Lape replied: "Oh yes, oh my gosh. That's a funny question," she said laughing as she shared the question with the class.
"And they're all smiling at me," she noted. "What a change. The main thing is they come into class knowing very little about deadlines. They learn how to really budget their time because these kids are very busy students. That might be the greatest lesson that they learn."