Blake senior wins journalism honor

 

Sarah Schewe honored with statewide student journalism award

LOWRY HILL – When Sarah Schewe started asking questions about diversity at The Blake School, the student journalist knew she was touching on some sensitive issues.

In the fall, the high school senior spent several late nights after school interviewing Blake’s maintenance staff. Most were recent immigrants placed in the school by a janitorial contractor.

While Blake’s long-term maintenance employees earned health and retirement benefits, Schewe found these newer contract workers did not.

Contracting out the services saved Blake money. But how did it square with Blake’s stated goal of encouraging diversity?

Schewe asked that question in the debut issue of 511 Theses, an alternative student newspaper published in October and co-edited with senior Sithara Kodali.

If Schewe’s piece of investigative journalism unsettled Blake administrators, it should also make them proud. Six months after she published the piece, Schewe earned Minnesota Journalist of the Year from the Journalism Education Association, which recognizes standout high school journalists.

Later this month, Schewe will learn how she fared against other state finalists in the national competition. First prize is a $5,000 scholarship.

The young writer said she was drawn to journalism’s power to “bridge a gap in understanding.”

“I think it can really motivate people,” Schewe said.

An important conversation

Schewe said 511 Theses wasn’t her first stab at journalism.

During her sophomore and junior years, she served as co-editor-in-chief of The Spectrum, Blake’s official student newspaper. But The Spectrum didn’t seem like the right place for the longer, investigative story she had planned.

Schewe and Kodali pitched the idea of an alternative newspaper to Amie DeHarpporte, a Blake social studies teacher.

“Being the good students that they are, they actually asked permission,” DeHarpporte said.

DeHarpporte signed on as their faculty advisor. She helped Schewe navigate some of the thornier ethical issues that cropped in her reporting, like identifying the contract workers interviewed for the story.

“Some of them wouldn’t talk to me because they told me they would get fired,” Schewe explained.

In the end, DeHarpporte said, Schewe’s piece accomplished something important: It got people talking.

“I think that’s an important conversation and it wasn’t one that our community had had,” DeHarpporte said.

A long tradition

Schewe said 511 Theses took its name from two sources: the school’s address (511 Kenwood Parkway) and the 95 Theses of Martin Luther that sparked the Reformation.

“Our principal told us nobody would get it,” she said.

As she and Kodali noted in their first issue, Blake has a tradition of alternative student newspapers going back several decades. One of the first was the Blakely Barb, co-founded by Blake alumnus Al Franken (class of 1969).

Schewe said there was one other alternative paper produced during her time at Blake, The Activist. But that publication fizzled after her freshman year when its editors graduated.

“Which tends to happen,” she said.

Occupied their senior years by the college application process, Schewe said she and Kodali ran up against their own production problems. The follow-up to October’s first 511 Theses was still in the works, she said.

That doesn’t mean Schewe has had her last byline. Far from it.

Schewe hoped to pursue a career in magazine writing after college.

“I’m not a person that needs to write,” she insisted. “I just love what writing can do.”

 

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com.