Board of Director Suzette Speaks takes a photo with students after the “Order in the Court!” session.

SPJ Florida was proud to participate once again at the Florida Scholastic Press Association District 7 meet up on Nov. 10, where board members created a mock press conference and court room to teach high school journalists on-the-fly reporting and First Amendment cases.

Between both, the board presented before nearly 100 students.

In the first session, “This Just In!”, students were thrown into a “breaking news” situation, where they reported on a Hollywood couple getting into trouble at a Miami doughnut shop. In just 45 minutes, they crafted questions for the public information offer, one of the celeb’s publicists, an eyewitness, and even scrolling through social media.

“Rather than sitting through a slideshow presentation, we try to make our workshops interactive,” said SPJ Florida President Christiana Lilly. “Year after year, our mock press conference has been a hit with students. Not only do they get a laugh out of the fictional news story, they’re often shocked they were able to write a story—by hand!—in just 45 minutes.”

Students listen during the FSPA District 7 conference.

The second session, “Order in the Court!”, was another interactive workshop. Teams were broken up into law firms to tackle three real Supreme Court cases surrounding teenagers and their First Amendment rights—Bethel v. Fraser, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, and Tinker v. Des Moines. After brainstorming, they presented their arguments before SPJ Florida board member Suzette Speaks, a working attorney and journalist, who dressed as a Supreme Court justice.

“Some of the students had heard of these landmark court cases, but it wasn’t always easy to explain why the courts should rule in favor of teenagers,” Lilly explained. “It’s so important for them to see that even though they’re ‘just’ a teenager, they can fight for their rights as student journalists and Americans.”

After sessions, the board members were available to chat about college, stories they were working on, how to apply for internships, and situations where they were being censored. For VP of Programming Emily Bloch, her first time leading workshops at FSPA was an eye-opener.

“Participating in FSPA this year was so exciting,” Bloch said. “The students worked so well in the high-pressure situations we threw them into. All I can say is if these high school and middle schoolers represent our future, we’re in really good hands.”

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