Introducing the Flagler Schools Observer

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 9, 2014
Teacher Blake VandeBunte joins journalism students Raphael Santiago and William Naughton as they interview students in the Josh Crews Writing Project.
Teacher Blake VandeBunte joins journalism students Raphael Santiago and William Naughton as they interview students in the Josh Crews Writing Project.
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Raphael Santiago, 16, typed on his iPhone, and William Naughton, 17, wrote with pink pen in a notebook as they sat at a small table at Old Kings Elementary School interviewing students in the Josh Crews Writing Project. They weren’t just playing journalists, and the story was not just another class assignment. Santiago and Naughton, both juniors at Flagler Palm Coast High School’s i3 Tech Academy, were tag-teaming a story about the Josh Crews Writing Project for the Flagler Schools Observer, the school’s new online newspaper. (Their story can also be read here, or on Page 5 of the Oct. 9 Palm Coast Observer.)

How it works
The Flagler Schools Observer is a partnership between the Palm Coast Observer and Flagler Schools, in which students gain real-world journalism experience by publishing school news daily to its online newspaper, (link no longer active).

The partnership was born at a breakfast meeting, facilitated by the Flagler Education Foundation, with Flagler Schools Superintendent Jacob Oliva, designed to bring principals and business owners together. In attendance at the meeting was Palm Coast Observer owner John Walsh.

“He was talking about the vision to work closer with the schools, and I thought it would be great to tap into the group out at i3,” said Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Lynette Shott. “As we continue to develop programs and the i3 flagship, we are really looking to make those real-life connections for the students to prepare them for when they leave school.”

The class, taught by Blake VandeBunte, has 12 students from i3 and two from FPC who go to i3 specifically for the Flagler Schools Observer class. Each student is assigned to a school in the district to write about. The online paper is also edited by students. Through the program, they are learning the ins and outs of the journal¬ism world, from writing to interacting with sources.

“They are still a little shy about the interacting on a professional level with adults,” VandeBunte said. “That was scary. And so, initially, it was a lot of short emails, but now they’ve taken it up a notch in terms of frequency of communication.”

In the beginning, Vande¬Bunte said students sent an email and then waited. But now, they recognize that if they don’t hear back from a source, they have to do some¬thing else.

“(Palm Coast Observer Executive Editor) Brian McMillan has come to talk to the kids a couple times, and that’s some¬thing he has relayed to them,” VandeBunte said. “If you’re not hearing back from the per¬son you need to hear from, go at it from another angle.”

That professional contact is something student reporter Naughton said he has strug¬gles with.
“A lot of times it’s hard,” he said. “Especially because we’re students trying to talk to principals. It’s finding a way to get around that and finding information that we need.”

But it’s those types of challenges that offer the work-field experience the program is designed for. While most students in the group are not looking for a future career in journalism, VandeBunte said many of them joined the class to do something cool and unique.

“They want to take some¬thing from nothing and build it up,” he said. “Being the first group, they have the opportunity to really create something. And that’s what is exciting, is the fact that they’re creating this and it’s theirs.”

Shott is happy with the evident sense of ownership that the students feel for
“As a principal, that’s been a huge positive response: the students’ deep enthusiasm,” Shott said. “They are on the job. It’s not a class assignment.”

Oliva said it’s part of the district’s emphasis on college and career readiness. Students are gathering ideas and producing content for the world to see through the website.

“When you lay out expectations for students, they always seem to exceed them,” Oliva said. “When you read the articles, you’d find it hard to believe that these are kids new to journalism. We are very proud of them.”

The connection
Education Foundation Executive Director Deborah Williams said having the on¬line newspaper at i3 is a great transition for students already honing their writing skills in elementary and middle school through the very project Naughton and Santiago were assigned to interview Old Kings Elementary students about: the Josh Crews Writing Project.

Through the interview process, Santiago learned some¬thing about the Josh Crews project — something he can now share with his readers. He said, “I was expecting strict writing and I was pleased to find out what (the students here) are actually doing; and their hobbies; and what they want to do when they grow up. They are writing just because they like to write, which was very interesting.”

While neither Naughton nor Santiago have goals of entering the journalism field, they said the professionalism and communication skills they are learning through the program will transition into any career they choose.

“I love the diversity of in¬formation and knowledge I’ve gained from class,” Naughton said. “Doing something like coming to Old Kings to inter¬view students has given me a lot of experience.”

The Flagler County Education Foundation is holding its fourth-annual Josh Crews Writing Project fundraiser 6:30-11 p.m. Oct. 25.

“This is a banner year,” said Committee Chairwoman Carla Cline. “We will be crossing the threshold of over $50,000 raised and donated back into the Flagler County education.”

This year’s theme is “The Great Gatsby,” and the event will be held on the grounds of Nature Scapes Gardens at 313 Old Brick Road, Bunnell. Tickets are $100 per person, including food, drinks and entertainment by the Flagler Youth Orchestra. Dressing up in the 1920s fashion is encouraged. Salvo Art Gallery, formerly Hollingsworth Gallery, will also be open and will donate 20% of all art sold the evening of the party back to the writing project. Visit




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