Hillside High restarts school paper

By Olivia Barrow
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Nineteen excited voices fill a computer lab at Hillside High School, but one stands out among the others.

“I wrote a story! You want to read it?” says Tee-Tee Hynson, a senior in Liz DeOrnellas’ journalism class, which re-launched the Hillside Chronicle this month.

Elizabeth DeOrnellas, the journalism teacher at Hillside High School, discusses story ideas with junior Marisol Juarez. (Staff Photo by Olivia Barrow)

“I see you,” says junior Marisol Juarez, pointing out Hynson’s byline above her story on the computer screen.

For students at Hillside, the school newspaper serves a much greater purpose than just a source of current events – it serves the immeasurable purpose of filling students with pride and motivation to achieve.

“I’m excited that it’s going to be up there and everyone is going to see my name,” Juarez said.

The Chronicle has struggled in recent years because it lacked continuity from year to year. This year, Elizabeth DeOrnellas, a newcomer to the school, has taken up the challenge of re-launching the paper online with a print version coming near the end of October, with the vision of returning the paper to its former glory.

“For the past couple years the class has been passed around from teacher to teacher,” DeOrnellas said. “It’s hard to build a program when you don’t have someone who’s been working with it for a while.”

Students published their first stories on the paper’s new Facebook page Sept. 27. The stories were also published on the school’s website.

Now in her third year of teaching journalism, DeOrnellas, who is originally from Fairfax, Va., graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill after working at The Daily Tar Heel all four years.

Starting with a lot of support and enthusiasm from the administrators and teachers, one of the biggest challenges for DeOrnellas was getting equipment.  But donations from the Durham VOICE and others have helped the project get off the ground.

Juarez said last year she didn’t know the school had a newspaper class.

“I saw the Hillside Chronicle, but I thought it was teachers writing it,” she said.

The newspaper class has opened students’ minds to possibilities they had not before considered.

“I’m excited because it’s my first year in a journalism class,” Juarez said. “I didn’t even know it existed. I would’ve never thought I could write an article about something.”

Shontavia Finks, a senior in the class, said she is now thinking about continuing with journalism in college. She hopes to attend North Carolina Central University.

DeOrnellas said she wants the paper to become an important voice in the community.

“We have incredible programs at the school that don’t get the publicity they deserve,” she said. “There’s a lot to cover, and a lot of people don’t get a sense of all the aspects of what’s going on at the school.”

In the past, the Chronicle was able to cover issues beyond the cinder block walls, serving as a community newspaper for Durham, said Carlton Koonce, the teen mentoring coordinator for the VOICE, who works with local high school journalism classes.

“I know a lot of Hillside alum,” he said. “It’s always been a big deal for them having the paper. … They were real proud of it. It has a real close connection to the community – almost like a community paper itself.”

Students recognized that producing a newspaper is a constant challenge, but said they have high hopes.

“It’s a lot of work at one time — you got to get it in on time and make sure it’s correct,” Finks said.I’m excited to see what my article is going to be like week after week.”

DeOrnellas said she thinks getting published is the main motivating factor for many of the students.

“It’s nice to be able to have the students tell that story,” DeOrnellas said. “They don’t often get a chance to get their own voice out there.”

After only about a month working together, students exuded a sense of pride and accomplishment.

“People are like, we have a newspaper class? What is Hillside doing having a newspaper?” Finks said. “I can have my name on a paper that will be here forever. Nobody is going to take that away from me.”