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Thursday, Jun 27 2013 10:25 PM

Historic student newspaper to cease publication

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    East Bakersfield High School's newspaper, The Kernal, is ceasing publication after 75 years. This is a file photo.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

An award-winning student newspaper published in Bakersfield for 75 years is being shut down.

The Kernal, which has chronicled the history and events at East Bakersfield High School through the eyes of its students since 1938, is no more, longtime journalism education adviser Randy Hamm said in an email Thursday.

"The East High administration has canceled the journalism elective for next year, which means the 75-year tradition of The Kernal student newspaper is dead," Hamm said. "I've been adviser the past 21 years and will sorely miss it."

School Principal Lee Vasquez confirmed the decision Thursday, citing budget constraints, lackluster interest by students, and the need to focus on state test scores and core academic subjects.

"It was a tough decision we had to make," Vasquez said. "I hate the idea of The Kernal being shut down on my watch."

But it's not just happening at East High. It appears to be a trend that is both districtwide and statewide. At least 11 of the 18 comprehensive high schools in the district do not have a newspaper, according to a district spokesman. And four campus newspapers -- at Liberty, South, Stockdale and now East Bakersfield -- have shut down within the past three years.

Students in the Kern High School District are now required to pass four years of English, Vasquez said.

With the loss of approximately $2 million in state Quality Education Investment Act funding, close to 47 sections -- periods in which a course is offered -- will be cut at East High beginning this fall.

With 40 to 45 students already packed into English classrooms -- and only about 15 in the newspaper class -- Vasquez said he could no longer justify keeping the journalism elective in place.

"It's really, really sad," said Marjorie Bell, a retired teacher who guided journalism students at Bakersfield High School for 24 years.

"The students learn so many skills," she said. "A lot of our kids have gotten good-paying jobs with those skills."

Bell believes there's more to the decision than budgets and top-down mandates from the state.

She recalled that in 2006, East High newspaper staffers sued after former Principal John Gibson and KHSD censored a series of Kernal stories on the lives of gay students at the school and the attitudes of the student body regarding sexual identity. The case was later settled.

"Journalism gives students a voice," Bell said. "I think some administrators are scared of that."

Steve O'Donoghue, a veteran journalism teacher in Oakland, directs the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative, which acts as a catalyst to improve journalism in the state's secondary schools.

"No Child Left Behind killed journalism in hundreds of schools across the country," O'Donoghue said.

The federal initiative's obsessive focus on test scores pushed high schools away from electives like journalism toward a one-size-fits-all model.

Despite the trend, a single high school in Palo Alto has 400 journalism students, he said. It proves that student journalism will thrive where it is valued and supported. But journalism education is more likely to thrive in affluent communities, O'Donoghue said. In poorer districts, it's an endangered species.

Paul Kandell, a journalism adviser at Palo Alto High School, agreed, noting that black and Hispanic students see fewer opportunities to benefit from the skills journalism teaches, skills that are relevant and valuable in a wide variety of occupations.

"It's research skills," he said. "It's going out and getting information. It's knowing how to approach people and producing something that can stand up to scrutiny."

"It's a great loss," Kandell said of The Kernal's closing.

"I share in the communal sense of mourning over the loss of this publication."

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