CARLSBAD — In 2017, Michelle Challis was tasked with revamping a lackluster journalism program at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad.
The assignment wasn’t easy, especially without a budget, said Challis, a former journalist. However, after three years, she’s proud of how far the program has come.
Challis, who was named Teacher of the Year at the school, and her students make up the team behind a regularly published magazine, MavLife Magazine, and a YouTube news show called “MAVNATION.” The students have even taken their journalism skills to social media, mirroring the reporting seen by professional journalists.
“I am extremely grateful for a handful who jumped on board with me in the beginning and continued to work to make the program more and more successful,” said Challis, who has worked at San Dieguito Union High School District for 19 years. “It was definitely not easy that first year. The absolutely excellent group of students who were with me were instrumental in making positive changes and bringing pride into the program. Without the students, none of the program would exist.”
Challis said prior to the changes, the student-run newspaper was often found on floors around campus. Today, the students are learning every part about working in a newsroom — from reporting and producing stories to how to shoot and edit video, Challis said.
The students’ work, which has earned a fanbase on campus, has also scored an American Scholastic Press Association award.
More importantly, the students are informing their school community about critical issues, Challis said.
“We are now known for addressing important issues, helping to change the culture on our campus and developing a quality news broadcast that students and teachers look forward to bi-weekly,” Challis said.
The journalism program hasn’t slowed down with the coronavirus outbreak that prompted the statewide closure of schools either.
Challis said the students have worked on creating a new website to share their stories. They also regularly hold meetings on Zoom as they work remotely from home.
“They are a fantastic group of young adults,” Challis said. “I am lucky to have them as my team.”
But, the students are also thankful for their hard-working teacher.
Courtney Hilliard, 17, said she has learned a lot about journalism and leadership from Challis.
“She has taught me how to voice my opinions and how to be confident in changing a program,” said Hilliard, a junior. “She has taught me how to defend each other and stand up for what we believe in.”
Maddy Gordon, also a junior, echoed her classmate.
“I have learned how to be confident at school and I receive the best advice from our advisor on a daily basis,” said Gordon, 17, who is considering a career in journalism. “I love that our program has a voice on campus and that we can produce a broadcast that is full of important news while remaining entertaining to our school.”
While Heath Dunbar, a sophomore, said he’s proud of being able to provide information to his community.
“(I’m proud of ) the ability to provide fellow students knowledge on important current events at school,” said Dunbar, 16.
Although the students are providing a service to the community, there isn’t a school budget for the program. Challis estimates that it costs roughly $9,000 to operate the program, which is all funded by donations.
“The most amazing part is that we don’t have a budget at all,” Challis said. “Unlike classes, ASB, theater or other programs on campus — we are a non-revenue based program. We provide all of this for free to our students, faculty and community.”
For more information about La Costa Canyon High School’s journalism program or to follow the students’ work, go to sites.google.com/view/mavnation/home or