How a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter became a mentor-blogger.
In summer 2003, Will Richardson was vacationing with his family on Assateague Island in Maryland when his wife, Wendy, struck up a conversation with another beach-goer, Kathryn Higham. Richardson joined the discussion and discovered that her husband, Scott, was a journalist. The high school teacher told Kathryn that he was always on the lookout for mentors for his journalism students. So Kathryn led Richardson up the beach, to meet Scott, mentioning along the way that he’d won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting a year earlier.
“I almost stopped dead in my tracks,” Richardson recalls.
The two men fell into an intense 40-minute conversation about newswriting, after which Richardson left with Higham’s contact information.
Six months later, Richardson began teaching yet another journalism class at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey. He asked his 18 students to track down professionals whom, with his guidance, they’d like to recruit as mentors. He then announced that the student who wrote the best essay about why he or she wanted to be coached by a Pulitzer Prize winner would, in fact, earn that privilege.
“When I met Richardson, he talked passionately about what he did,” Higham, a Washington Post reporter, says of the meeting on the beach. “Then he mentioned blogs, and I had no idea that teachers were using them.”
Higham, it turns out, had agreed to participate in the mentoring program, but forgot about it until Richardson e-mailed him in January, letting him know an 11th grader was ready for his tutelage. Soon afterward, “I had this young woman named Meredith in my life, asking me a thousand questions,” Higham chortles.
He was able to respond to Meredith Fear’s queries from his office, home, or via laptop whenever he traveled. As Meredith worked on a piece about teen apathy, she also crafted a query letter, hoping to submit the story to a major news outlet. “Sharpening the top will increase your chances,” Higham posted to her blog. “Most editors have little time to read unsolicited queries from outside writers, so try to grab them as quickly as possible.”
Higham never met Meredith or visited her school. “But I was impressed with how plucky she was and how curious about the world around her,” he recalls. “She asked many insightful questions, which is exactly what you need for journalism.”
At the end of the school year, however, Meredith blogged: “My big learning experience was that I don’t like journalism as much as I thought.” But, she added, “I liked actually talking to and interviewing ‘real’ people.”
Meredith, now a sophomore studying anthropology at New York University, says “it was huge that someone who had achieved so much communicated with me like a regular guy. It helped me learn that I could succeed, too, when facing difficulty.”
“For me,” Higham reflects, “the benefit was being able to plug into the mind of a very sharp teenager and connect on a professional level across generational lines. I witnessed the evolution of her thought processes and writing skills as she dealt with feedback. Blogs allow a teacher to literally take their kids out into the world from classrooms anywhere in America. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2006 edition of Teacher