Students stay connected through local high school papers during pandemic

Despite leaving their high schools due to the pandemic, students at Ancaster High and Bishop Reding in Milton have continued to write and publish articles to keep their communities connected.
The Royal Gazette at Ancaster High School has continued to publish its online paper with students reporting on world events from their bedrooms. (Submitted by Ashley Barry)

As local high school students write articles, hold meetings, and run social media accounts from their bedrooms during the pandemic, they have one goal in common — to keep their school communities connected. 

Students at Ancaster High School have published monthly editions of The Royal Gazette for the past three years, and being sent home to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus didn't stop them from following their passions. 

Since being home, they've turned to Zoom to meet online a couple times a week to talk about the articles they want to write, and editing and designing of their online publication. 

Today marks the last edition of the Gazette, run by Grade 12 students Ashley Barry and Emily Outerbridge, for the year before school is technically out for summer. 

Barry said that while graduation was so close, and the possibility to stop tempting, they decided with their group to create a plan B to keep on writing. Continuing the paper, she said, helped keep students together. 

"Let's just keep going, we're going to pass on the legacy," she said. "We've gotten so much good feedback from continuing doing it, so I'm really glad that we made that decision to keep going." 

She said the group wanted their coverage of the pandemic to go beyond statistics. Through socially distanced reporting using phone calls and emails, the writers created a world news section, a section for local coverage, and a lighter pop culture section to follow concerts and filming dates that have been postponed. 

The most important articles, Barry said, made sure that students' voices and opinions were being represented. 

Some articles featured those in their school community, with people reflecting on the pandemic or their time at Ancaster High School, to keep that feeling of connection despite not being under the same roof. 

"We would interview students or teachers and just have them talk about their experience, because everyone's experience is different," she said. "I think those articles are really what got people to read The Gazette over the last few months." 

The Royal Register team at Bishop Reding connects on Zoom calls to continue working as a club. (Submitted by Shanzey Ali)

The Royal Register at Bishop P.F. Reding Catholic Secondary School in Milton, co-edited by Shanzey Ali and Ashvini Giridaran, has also continued running despite schools being closed during the pandemic. 

Being sent home, Ali said, made the school year feel finished and running a paper seemed like a daunting task.

But as this new reality sunk in,  she said the team realized that they were in a unique position to keep things running.  With the help of supervising teachers, they narrowed their vision and started holding Zoom meetings to brainstorm ideas and assign tasks. 

Like Barry, Ali said that the Register — which has been running for two years — aims to elevate the student voice. 

"We're all about making sure that people's voices in the school community are heard, that the people in the school community are celebrated," she said. "It's really for the students." 

Their initiatives, she said, started to focus more on interacting with the rest of the school community during the time they were apart — and social media was a big help. 

Bishop Reding's school paper 'The Royal Register' has turned to Instagram to keep the community engaged, with question and answer sessions and Music Mondays. (RoyalRegisterBR/Instagram)

They ran a series called "Music Mondays" on their Instagram, which highlighted different school musicians, and also held question and answer sessions about current world events and movements like Black Lives Matter.

A few articles and poems were posted on their website, where they also compiled yearbook-like submissions from graduating students in their caps and gowns and created a thank-you video from the teachers with school memories. 

"We really tried to keep the school spirit high enough so that everybody could feel that there was something normal," she said. 

She added that working together throughout the week brought the whole newspaper team together. 

"We were thinking that we're all going through the same situation and we all had the same goal - we wanted to do things for our school community," she said. "I think at the end it was really rewarding to see everybody come together like that."