In May, the American Society of News Editors awarded 40 secondary school educators $1,000 each for their innovative efforts while teaching the First Amendment in classrooms across the country. To learn about the First Amendment, students completed creative and educational projects, including videos, posters, newspaper articles, editorials, raps, artwork and presentations, and some students even worked to support legislation that protects student press rights.
Kymberli Wregglesworth teaches at Onaway High School in Onaway, Michigan. Wregglesworth received the 1ForAll First Amendment honor after using rap music to help students remember the five freedoms of the First Amendment in her eleventh grade Civics class.
“Since rap is an art form that is often criticized, I thought it would be a great example of freedom of speech,” she said.
Wregglesworth used the mnemonic RAPPS (Religion, Assembly, Press, Petition and Speech) to help students remember the five freedoms. She challenged students to use one or more of the five freedoms as the basis for an eight-line long rap song. Wregglesworth said the lesson allowed her students to learn more about why the First Amendment was necessary for a free and democratic society.
“The ability of citizens to criticize the government, to try to get the government to fix problems in society, to print opinions and information without fear of reprisal, to assemble in support of or in protest against something, and to practice or refrain from practicing the religion of one’s choice creates the freedom we enjoy in this country,” she said.
Mitch Eden of Kirkwood High School in Missouri was also honored for his innovative teaching efforts. Eden teaches yearbook, newsmagazine and online media to tenth through twelfth grade students.
Eden helped sponsor a speaker series with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where professional journalists, including the Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist team who covered events in Ferguson, Missouri, discussed ethics and the 21st Century media.
“These speaker series events were invaluable as students heard from the pros about real-life situations involving the right to publish, ethical debates and the good and bad of modern day media,” he said.
Eden said he thinks the most effective way to teach the First Amendment is to bring in daily discussions of issues around the country. Eden’s students presented slideshow presentations to the class on different court cases, such as Morse v. Frederick, and discussed how each case impacted student journalism.
“If we do not teach it, there is more likelihood of misunderstanding our rights and freedoms and, even worse, not knowing them at all,” he said. “Teenagers especially need to be well-educated on what rights they have to publish.”
Eden organized a fall workshop at two district middle schools promoting scholastic journalism and awareness of the First Amendment. Additionally, during Scholastic Journalism Week, a different media program went on announcements and shared information about their program, the First Amendment and how it impacts teenagers.
“One day, more than 150 student journalists wore black armbands to celebrate the Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court ruling and to share this story with peers,” he said.
Eden said it is important to arm students with the tools, educate them and then let them go.
“Give the power to publish to the kids and some amazing things can happen,” Eden said. “If students know it is truly theirs, they will rise to the expectations and produce some amazing journalistic content.”
For more information on the challenge or a complete list of winners, check out a previous article from SchoolJournalism.org.