High school teacher, newspaper adviser receiving honor

No funding, no problem.

While school newspapers have collapsed across the state because school districts can’t fund them, Tussey Mountain’s Titan Topics newspaper circulates because adviser Nate Thompson’s students hound advertisers for funding.

This fall, Thompson, 32, will be awarded as the Pennsylvania School Press Association’s Journalism Teacher of the Year, after being nominated by the association’s president.

“He’s in a small rural school district, and he’s putting out a school paper with no money from the school district,” association president Jane Blystone said.

Blystone couldn’t speak for the state, but where she is in Erie County, four of 13 schools have a school newspaper.

“A lot have collapsed because schools aren’t funding them because they don’t have the funding,” she said. “They are spending instead on math, science and English for the state’s standardized exams.”

Thompson’s students have high state exams scores, and he advises a school newspaper after school.

“He is that teacher that you thought only existed in movies, the one that actually cares about students enough to make such a mark on their lives,” Liv Mitchell, a junior and Titan Topics editor, said.

Thompson advises the newspaper and yearbook clubs and is one of four Journalism Education Association nationally certified Master Journalism Educators in Pennsylvania, Blystone said.

Teachers must take a national exam and complete a national project to earn the master certification, Blystone said.

“A lot of teachers don’t want to do the extra work,” she said.

Thompson passes his work ethic onto his students.

“I want to be the coach. I could sit there and make the changes to articles for them, but I want to do as little as possible, so they can say, ‘I’ve been using industry standard software, editing articles, contacting advertisers, and I’m only 18,'” Thompson said.

What he believes in strongly is the capability of students when they are challenged to excel, he said.

“They get frustrated. They might want to tap out,” he said. “If you have a rapport with them, they are willing to take on the challenge.”

Mitchell said she had a rough start with Journalism 1.

“Mr. Thompson was kind enough to leave his classroom door open for whenever I needed help with a wide variety of things, from math to how to deal with high school drama,” she said. “He impacted my decision to want to become a newspaper reporter.”

Mitchell said with his support, she managed to write more than the required number of articles last year and laid out the school newspaper almost by herself. That year, there were only three students in her journalism class.

“I have spent more hours in his classroom working on Titan Topics things than I have spent hours in my house,” she said.

Though his recognition is for one year, Thompson’s impact has been evident over his nine-year tenure at the small high school.

As an undergraduate student teacher from Juniata College, one of the toughest girls on the basketball team cried when he left Tussey Mountain. So the Harrisburg native returned to Tussey Mountain full time after earning a master’s degree and going through the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute fellowship at Kent State University.

“He impacts kids who sometimes don’t have another niche they are involved with,” Tussey Mountain Superintendent Mark Bollman said.

For example, when the yearbook club needed a photographer, Thompson enlisted a shy eighth-grade girl dressed like a grunge-rocker. Now graduated from high school, she enjoys a side job as a photographer, Thompson said.

“I got to watch her go through all her changes. I watch them cross the stage at graduation. And it’s such a change in their lives. To see that year after year is pretty awesome,” he said.

The students in Thompson’s English class have had high test scores over the years, Bollman said, and in addition to his regular teaching, he spends many evenings with students working on the school paper.

Bollman said the district is proud of Thompson and thankful for the good publicity his statewide honor has brought the district.

“He’s very enthusiastic but also organized. Students into journalism seem to really respond to him,” Bollman said.

Mitchell could only speak for herself.

“I am truly more happier, more open, more social, more loyal, more mature, more hardworking and more responsible than when I first walked into his classroom in eighth grade,” she said.

In addition to Thompson’s honor as Pennsylvania Journalism Teacher of the Year, the Pennsylvania School Press Association has invited him to be a member of its executive board.

“I see my role as spokesman for small districts,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.