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Staff of FGHS' new student newspaper discuss real issues

Junior starts "The Advocate" to shine light on lesser known groups

The members of The Advocate pose for a photo during their meeting about stories for the next issue. (Back row left to right) Eli Gale, Jacob Wheeler, Josh Krieger, Sergio Bucio, Ruby Van Dyk, Tara Palazuelos, Stevie Walker and Maggie Hatt. (Front left to right) Dawn Nelson, Rebecka Klausen, Killian Lynch, Ellie Schnorr, Bianca Bermejo, Mira Zimmerman and Catalina Montelongo.When Ruby Van Dyk told her parents and teachers she wanted to start a newspaper at Forest Grove High School, they gave her a raised brow and a look that said, “I don’t know if you want to do that.”

But she did want to do that.

On March 3, the first published post of the FGHS monthly online newspaper appeared. Since then, “The Advocate” has been turning out content on a variety of student issues — everything from flaky friends to the absence of birth control in the School Based Health Center.

Once she made it clear she was serious about bringing a newspaper back to the high school, Van Dyk’s parents, teachers and FGHS administrators jumped on board and the rest started falling into place.

FGHS language arts teacher Dawn Nelson agreed to serve as the students’ advisor and 25 students showed up to an initial informational meeting, with about 20 now on staff.

Nelson has been very supportive, Van Dyk said, and FGHS Principal Karen O’Neill even went the extra mile to help her find statistics she needed for one of her articles.Student staff members of the Forest Grove High School newspaper sat in a classroom recently discussing story assignments.

While it has brought some late nights and stressful days, Van Dyk is even more dedicated to “The Advocate” than she was a few months ago: “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m really, really liking this.”

A FGHS junior, Van Dyk decided to drop out of the track-and-field team so she would have enough time to serve as the newspaper’s editor in chief.

As a freshman, Van Dyk was surprised to learn the school didn’t have a newspaper. “I really wanted to feel like our school had a voice,” she said. “People are really doing some cool and interesting things and I feel like the athletes are the only ones who get recognized.”

Voices from the shadows

Van Dyk is hoping the paper will advocate for those in the shadows, including minority groups and members of small, unknown clubs.

Sergio Bucio, a FGHS junior and the co-editor of the paper’s diversity section, credits Van Dyk with inspiring him to join that effort.

“She makes everything better and she’s always there to help you,” said Bucio, whose work on the paper helped him realize writing is one of his strengths. “Ruby saw something in me and it was very cool.”

Bucio is hoping to shine a light on the school’s many different clubs, cultures and social groups. So far, the paper’s diversity section has posted stories on the power of words, the struggles of LGBTQIA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual and Ally) individuals, the school’s leadership team members and the Adelante Mujeres Chicas program. Ruby Van Dyk often leads the staff story meetings, asking the other students about their interests and what's going on in their social circles.

Bucio was particularly struck by a study he found while researching his piece on the power of words that showed striking similarities in brain scans of those who have been verbally abused and those who have been hit in the head. “Verbal abuse is real and we should really acknowledge it,” Bucio said. “People are verbally attacked and they think it’s normal.”

Bucio plans to use his position on the newspaper staff and as senior class president next school year to work on creating a positive environment in the school by reaching out to all communities.

As a Hispanic, Bucio feels there’s often a divide at FGHS between Latino and white students. He suspects this mostly stems from a high percentage of the Hispanic students growing up and going to school in Cornelius and then folding into the high school as freshmen. “You hang out with who you grew up with,” he said.

But he’s striving to combine cultures in more activities and is hoping to start out by recruiting more Latino students to the newspaper staff.

Staff, topics both diverse

The staff is already pretty diverse with Hispanic students, LGBTQ kids, athletes and brainiacs all coming together to write, edit and post stories online.

Staff writer Stevie Walker is particularly interested in climate change and environmental issues. “I hope the paper will get people more aware of social problems,” she said. “I want to get it out to everyone so people know what’s happening out there.”

After a few bumps early on — spelling errors, students not meeting deadlines — “The Advocate” staff members have been hitting their stride. They’ve covered a variety of topics, from abortion to college campus sexual assault risks to reviews on Oregon colleges and music albums.

The staff has received some negative comments accusing them of being too liberal. NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Forest Grove High School Junior Ruby Van Dyk heads up the Tuesday-morning meetings for The Advocate before school.

“It takes a lot in high school to voice your opinion. Kids are mean,” Van Dyk said. “We want it to be well liked but sometimes you have to say things not everyone is going to hug you for.”

Still, most of the feedback they’ve received from peers, parents and administrators has been positive.

“We’re happy people are reading it,” Van Dyk said. “A lot of the adults I’ve talked to are excited we have a paper again.”

Newspaper’s rocky road

The FGHS student newspaper — under several different names and leadership teams — has had a rough road over the past six years or so. In 2010, when it was called “The Viking Log,” the paper published a comment that implied a particular male student was gay. The student’s parents complained and copies of the newspaper were removed from classrooms. Administrators fired the advisor from her role (but not from her position as a language arts teacher).

After that, administrators censored some of the paper’s content and threatened to stop the presses on the operation altogether.

Current Principal O’Neill, who was not principal in 2010, said the newspaper class was cut a few years ago during the economic downturn, the same year 17 teachers were cut from the high school’s staff. Several staff members tried to run it as an after-school club with little success, she said.

In the years after “The Viking Log,” students started an underground newspaper called “Viking Log Underground” and later “The Forest.” Neither survived.

But Van Dyk’s hope are high for “The Advocate.”

“I don’t want this to be the kind of thing where I graduate and it crumbles,” she said. “I want to keep it going and recruit younger kids.”FGHS Language Arts Teacher Dawn Nelson volunteered to be the staff advisor for the student newspaper when Van Dyk suggested it.

She’s considering turning “The Advocate” into a print product next year as part of her senior project in between gigs as the paper’s editor, the Forest Grove School Board’s Student Representative and as the founded of the school’s Young Feminists Club.

“I enjoy being able to produce something that has an impact on others,” Van Dyk said. “I feel like a lot of what teens do is for themselves and feel like this is something bigger.”