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TF North’s Thorntonian Newspaper lives on, thanks to new advisor and passionate students

Journalism class and time-honored newspaper was at risk

CALUMET CITY, Ill. (November 28, 2023) – Mr. Joseph Stephan is a Social Studies teacher at TF North who teaches Honors U.S. History and who also has served as the faculty advisor for TF North’s Chronoscope Yearbook for the past 20 years.

This year he has assumed an additional role — one of faculty advisor for the school’s Advanced Journalism class. When the previous journalism teacher had accepted a new teaching assignment and no other teacher showed interest in teaching Advanced Journalism, the class offering was in danger of being dropped. But it wasn’t only the class that was at risk. The Advanced Journalism class is an English Deptartment elective that produces the school’s newspaper, the Thorntonian, and so this time-honored school publication was at risk as well.

Saving the Thorntonian

Mr. Stephan discovered from a course interest survey given to students last year that only one student — Rogelio Romero — expressed an interest in the Advanced Journalism class.

“When I found out that there was one kid who wanted to take it,” Stephan explained, “I definitely wanted to make sure we had the class. Really I didn’t even know him … but I had heard great things about him from his AP History teacher.”

Stephan actively began recruiting students from his popular yearbook class into Advanced Journalism. Through his recruitment of students and his acceptance of becoming the new faculty advisor, Mr. Stephan not only helped fulfill the needs of a future journalism student, but he also saved the journalism class and the school newspaper from possible dissolution.

“We know that it’s 1925 when we started,” Stephan said, recounting the school newspaper’s history — which actually precedes the school’s 1926 opening — “and I just didn’t want to see something [of TF North’s history] go away.”

Currently there are 13 students in the class, five of which Mr. Stephan recruited.

Thorntonian staff asked TFN counselor Wendy Bivins to sing the lyrics of a Backstreet Boys song for an Instagram video. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

The tradition continues … online

TF North’s Thorntonian began moving from print to online publishing during the pandemic, and this year it is entirely online-accessible only. Originally the class goal was to produce three online issues per semester, but they have already exceeded their goal and intend to double the number this semester to six issues. The first four issues focus on the new school year; homecoming; Hispanic Heritage Month; and Halloween. Upcoming issues are due to go live November 30 and December 20.

Learning experience for all

This year has been a learning experience for both the new advisor and his students. Initially for their newspaper layout, they used a generic Microsoft template, but have since advanced to the more professional Canva.

They also planned to increase newspaper readership by adding and sharing content through the social media platforms Instagram and Facebook. Their plan appears to be working. For their most recent issue, they received 41 Letters to the Editor, according to Editor-in-Chief Ruby Garcia.

Thorntonian staff prepare their phones to record ahead of recording “Finish the Song” Instagram videos. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

A new feature on their Instagram account tfn_thorntonian is “Finish the Song,” in which TF North faculty and staff members are challenged in video reels to finish the lyrics of popular songs. Journalism student Tianna Bowen — who also played the lead in this year’s musical “Cinderella” — sings the first part of each song to be finished. Student Mia Romo — whose ambition is to become a film editor and has an interest in broadcast and multi-media journalism — does all of the video editing.

Their Facebook page Thornton Fractional North Thorntonian shares content from the Thorntonian as well as from their Instagram account and gives important reminders to the students — like when a new issue is “dropping” or when picture day is scheduled.

Editor-in-Chief Ruby Garcia recently shared what she has learned by taking on new challenges in her October 27 Thorntonian editorial, “What Scares You?” The following is an excerpt:

“Sophomore year came along, and I had Mr. Stephan as my U.S. History teacher. He saw the opportunity to introduce me to the yearbook class.
I was terrified of trying something new in life, especially joining a class that I had no experience with. …
Maybe trying out a new class or having to start from scratch made me mentally strong and took away any negative thoughts of not being able to do it. Later on, I got more confident in myself which gave me the opportunity to join the Thorntonian. I was nervous, only having the knowledge and experience of yearbook, and now being asked to be the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper was a big deal and change for me.
Not only are they the opposite of one another, but now I have to be a leader that everyone can look up to. I still took the opportunity and now I’m here. I’m glad I faced those challenges, and with the help of others I’m always looking forward to trying new experiences. Overall my confidence went up, and I can say that I’m always ready to face a challenge now!”

Surviving, and thriving

The Thorntonian online newspaper issues are informative, upbeat, and appeal to a diverse population. They deliver news about school sports and activities, share student artwork, recipes, and culture, and include student opinion and input through Letters to the Editor and surveys.

Thorntonian staff ask TFN teacher Mark McDaniel to finish the lyrics to a Backstreet Boys song for an Instagram video. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

“I am lucky that I have special education teachers, English teachers, and social studies teachers, and Spanish teachers who want to work with me,” said Stephan. “We really want to be inclusive. … The art department should get credit, too. I want their students to have an opportunity to create a portfolio with their work — the masthead has been designed [by art students] a couple of times.”

Though the newspaper does not have a formal mission statement, student Mia Romo explained that one of their goals is to improve school spirit.

Mr. Stephan, who has his journalism students read The Lansing Journal as a model of good journalism, says that he told Journal Publisher Melanie Jongsma at the beginning of the year, “I want that type of feel — where there’s so many good things going on — that’s what I want to promote.”

Read the Thorntonian here.

Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos grew up on Walter Street in Lansing with nine siblings. She attended St. Ann’s School and T.F. South, and she earned a BA in the Teaching of English from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a MS in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Francis, Joliet. For 34 years she taught English, as well as Creative Writing and Drama, at Lincoln-Way High School. She dabbled in freelance journalism for the Joliet Herald News Living section. Now retired, Jennifer appreciates the opportunity to write for The Lansing Journal and is uplifted by the variety of positive people she has already met who are making a difference in Lansing.