It's been a couple of weeks since the staff of The Spartan Chronicles at Seaside High received the new layout program. So Jonathan Green, the "tough but fair" supervising teacher, walks around this unusually quiet newsroom, dispensing design and technical advice.
"I don't know how to put the title on it," Cheryl Salazar,17, asks Green for help.
Green sits next to the junior, and gives quick, detailed instructions on how to put a text box on a photo. How to shift its shape. How to change text colors.
"The box will be determined by how much space you have," Green tells her. "We can do this. Or we can carve it out or we can fit it over this. We can create a slanted text box. Does that make sense?"
"It's so cool," Cheryl said.
Green's technical writing class is putting the finishing touches on Issue 3 of the Spartan Chronicles, a bold magazine produced almost entirely by students.
It's not your typical teen magazine. The staff, seven to 10 juniors and seniors, brainstorm at the beginning of the semester for story ideas. The writers mostly have chosen to explore issues that have affected them personally, like alcohol abuse or domestic violence, said Green.
Once they've researched the topic, interviewed their sources and gone through countless revisions, they take their own photos or create their own graphics. They lay out the stories on the page, chose their titles and photo captions, and put on the finishing touches.
"It's our vision," said Patty Lopez, a senior.
The idea of having a magazine for Seaside High came from the faculty and staff, Principal Mary White said.
"An important part of public education is to guide students to having opinions and beliefs based on their world view and experiences of life," she wrote in an email. "The Spartan Chronicles is our way of more formally giving voice to students' thoughts and ideas through their own writing."
At a time when school publications seem to have gone the way of budget cuts, with some exceptions, Seaside High is making a statement by launching a magazine. The school had a newspaper in years past, and for White, the magazine is another sign of the much-talked-about school's renewal.
"Our job as educators is to challenge and stretch our students to think above and beyond the here and now," White said. "To support our students to be participants in their community begins by encouraging them to have the courage to express a solid viewpoint and be willing to share it publicly. From the Spartan Chronicles students are given the freedom to speak openly about their thoughts and feelings and are coached, guided and taught how to put it all into writing and into a format that reflect a high quality product."
The magazine began modestly, with just a limited print edition to give to the staff, school officials and administrators. The issue was expanded with the second issue to give one print copy to each student at Seaside High. It's always been available online.
Green would like to expand the production to include ads.
"Next up is to try to market it," Green said.
It's the second year that Patty is taking technical writing, and it's already made a big impression. The first article she wrote was about fitting in, a topic of paramount importance to most young people. For the story she interviewed Latinos, blacks, and gays, people who were not always comfortable being named on touchy matters.
"It was hard to get people to talk to me," she said. "For me it was an eye-opening experience."
Patty is now designing her most recent article, this one about gang violence and its effects on families. She decided to tackle the subject based on her own experiences.
"My brother got involved in gangs. He got in trouble and dropped out of school. He got shot in May," she said. "They came to our house to do a drive-by. We lost our house, we had to move out. It was hard financially and emotionally."
She enjoys having her voice heard, she said, and getting feedback. She's liked the experience so much that's she's declaring journalism as her major in her college applications.
"Before the class, I never really considered it. Now I just love the whole concept."
Justin Thornton, 17, has always liked writing, and the magazine class gives him a chance to sink his teeth into a long-term project.
"I get to work well, rather than work fast," he said. For the upcoming issue, Justin is writing about funding for art classes in high school.
At a time when respected national magazines seem to be folding, Green said he's not worried about the skills his students are learning.
"They're getting research skills that they can take anywhere. They're learning how to interview people, design, those are life-long skills," he said. "We'll never see good writing go away."
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.