When everything in the world seems to not make sense, working to keep things “normal” for ourselves and our students is so important. In a “normal” year, I would be traveling to the National High School Journalism Convention with my students. Last year we traveled to Washington, D.C., and explored museums, national monuments, and even ate authentic Peking duck.

Last March, we were supposed to travel to NYC to accept our Gold Crown award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. One week before the convention, everything was canceled. April should have taken us to Nashville to explore Music City, but again, we were canceled.

This fall was scheduled for Orlando. My students started getting excited last fall about the Orlando convention. We started making great plans about visiting Disney World and Universal. It was very clear, though, at the end of last year, that there would be no in-person convention.

We have all gotten to the point of “Zoom Fatigue,” and the concept of having students participate in a virtual convention was a bit worrisome at first. As a director-at-large on the Journalism Education Association Board, I was involved in the brainstorming process for the convention. Using the Hubb.me app, a virtual conference was organized. Despite not being in person, I immediately registered our publication students and started making new plans.

With the help of Kim Tunnell, director of fine arts, we decided to make this “virtual fieldtrip” as exciting as possible. We reserved the Yancey Hospitality Suite for two days, planned a catered breakfast and lunch, and I went to work on swag bags.

One thing I hear journalism students talk about the most at any convention is the trade show and all the swag they can pick up. Working with our yearbook publisher, Herff Jones, Darlington’s Admission Office, the school bookstore, and many of my friends who live in Florida, I put together a swag bag to be jealous of!

Upon arrival at our first day of the convention, students were greeted with tons of goodies and spent the first half hour exploring their swag bags and getting excited. I expected them, as teenagers, to think some of the items were “lame,” but they all put on their Mickey ears and started pinning “flair” all over their new lanyards.

We are so used to seeing our students behind their computers with headphones in, but watching them take notes and ask questions (while I was teaching my own sessions to students and journalism advisers around the country) was inspiring to me and reminded me why journalism conventions are so important.

Journalism teaches real-world skills; from collaborating with peers, to maintaining a budget; from working with advertisers to meeting deadlines. The opportunity to network with other journalism students around the country allows them to see that they’re not alone and certainly not the only ones struggling to create a publication. We all need some reminders that we’re not all alone during these awkward times.

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