About seven years ago, Kathryn Wilkins became the advisor of The Cougar Claw at Kearns High School. At that time, most people didn’t even know there was a newspaper at the school.
When Wilkins started, they didn’t have much of a budget. She and her class would take 11×15 papers into the copy room, make each copy, and then fold the papers by hand.
Mrs. Wilkins remembers spending five to six hours just putting the paper together.
Eventually, they got more money in the budget and were able to buy a paper folder so they did not have to fold them by hand anymore.
Wilkins and her students started to work with donation type funding. There was a teacher who would constantly support and donate to The Cougar Claw newspaper and now they are finally able to send off the papers to a printer.
The Cougar Claw now delivers its work to around 50 different businesses in the area. In the past they were creating 1,000 copies, but production has expanded to 6,500 copies, expanding their horizons to being a community newspaper.
Wilkins’ goal is to get her students’ work to every resident in Kearns which would require an increase of approximately 10,000 more papers.
Student journalists deliver the paper to different parts of the community, including assisted living facilities and grocery stores.
Wilkins says that being an advisor for the paper has been a learning process, but the relationships that are built in these classes are completely different than the ones in a core class.
“There is just a different dynamic. We sometimes do potluck parties,” said Wilkins. “Overall it is great to see where the paper originally was and how far it’s come.”
Wilkins has seen progress in her students not only academically, but also as people. Her students have talked about how much easier it is writing English and history essays after taking her classes and writing for The Cougar Claw.
“More community stories get students out of their comfort zone and have them talking to people in our community to get information, not just relying on friends for quotes. They are talking to strangers and people they have never met. It is a real-world thing that they get to participate in,” said Wilkins.
Students have had multiple guest speakers come and talk to the class. Becky Jacobs from the Salt Lake Tribune came and talked about interviewing skills and different ways to break down their articles. The Cougar Claw students also got to take a field trip over to the Salt Lake Tribune and see all the work that goes on there.
John Gulter, a professorial photographer, comes in periodically and teaches photo and design skills. Tom Haraldsen, who runs the Clipper, has visited Kearns High on a number of occasions. As a professional he is able to pinpoint where the paper can improve.
“I’m here to advise. It’s really their newspaper. I give them possibilities of choices and they make the choice,” said Wilkins.
Long term Wilkins wants to make connections with colleges in Utah and see if she can give students opportunities to pursue journalism.
They have heard positive input from the community about their newspaper. They have a stand at the food bank and Mayor Bush has said that people are picking up the papers and reading them. There is public interest from the community.
Wilkins tries to give her students as much really world experience as she can. Through her class she is trying to increase literacy scores by using the district journalism standards.
The student reporters are really able to capitalize on all the great work that is happening in Kearns High School whether that be events happening in the school and community or sharing the story of an incredible student or teacher.