Finding My Voice: A Farewell to the OnLion

Katie Maier

There’s truth in the saying, “you’ll never know if you don’t ask.”

A study hall seemed like the logical choice. It was the spring of ninth grade, and I was already looking ahead to college when I got the email. The schedule selections I had made for tenth-grade classes looked pretty demanding, and I had other goals I wanted to pursue like starting a Model UN club. A study hall would allow me the time to work through class assignments and homework to achieve the grades I needed to get into a good college. 

However, the email from Mr. Newman caught my attention. His usually bustling newspaper class had decreased in size due to the graduation of a few seniors. It was past the time to submit the formal request to be a part of the class, but he was actually soliciting for extra students to be a part of his team in the fall. 

I had seen paper copies of the newspaper during my freshman year (that was pre-Covid) and had always taken the time to read through it. It had interesting pieces, and for Valentine's Day there was always an especially amusing publication with humorous articles written on “love” from the teenage perspective.

I didn’t know Mr. Newman at that time, and I was hardly an avid reader of the New York Times or Washington Post,  so I can’t recall why I decided to forfeit my only chance at sanity (that study hall) in 10th grade. However, it suddenly became my dream to be a part of the newspaper team, and, as is my style, nothing was going to stop me. 

There were obstacles. Ok, maybe just one obstacle. Namely, my mother. She had already expressed concern that I was overbooking myself with the proposed tenth-grade schedule which included every honors, AP, and advanced class that Lovett had to offer. She had signed off on it a few weeks earlier only because I had that study hall on the list. When I broached the idea with her of adding another class to my schedule one night at dinner, my mother flat out said “no.” However, as noted before, I’m not known for backing down once I‘ve set a goal. My mother knows this more than anything. I prevailed, she gave in, and her signature soon landed on the permission slip. I was now a member of the “press” (pun intended).

In August, Mr. Newman surprisingly popped up on my schedule in two places: newspaper teacher and English teacher. I could only hope that our instructor-student relationship would flourish (or at least be tolerable) as these two classes would now comprise a chunk of my grades for that year.

The first few days of classes in 10th grade lived up to my mother’s concern that I was “overbooked.” Many of my teachers advised this would be the hardest year yet, and the assignments were starting immediately. I wandered into newspaper class that first day already bleary-eyed at what lay before me in my other classes and had no idea of what to expect from this class. Maybe I had overbooked?

Mr. Newman reviewed the newspaper class syllabus. While some schools produce a newspaper as an extracurricular activity, the Lovett OnLion newspaper is an actual class. The expectation was that each student would write at least 2-3 articles per quarter (the number varies based on the number of weeks in the quarter). We would each be assigned a “beat” (that’s fancy insider newsroom lingo for the main sections of the newspaper) like sports and arts. Although we each would have a “beat,” we would meet to discuss potential story ideas with any one of us volunteering to write the actual articles. 

Mr. Newman explained his expectations. And, it seemed pretty straightforward with the exception of the grading system. At the end of each quarter, we would submit to Mr. Newman a proposed grade for ourselves. He would evaluate the reason why we chose that grade, and let us know if he agreed. This was puzzling to me since it was the first time I had a class where I was grading myself. Seemed like a trick! I guess I would find out later. 

Later, as it turned out, was sooner as each year Mr. Newman starts off with the end product in mind. Freshman Alexis Dalton recalls joining the class last fall, saying “The first day, we got assigned our first article.” While this may seem daunting to some, Alexis wanted to explore her interest in journalism. Having especially enjoyed the writing assignments in prior English classes, this seemed like a great place to explore a new approach to writing. Alexis also liked the idea of interviewing people. While some articles each quarter can be op-ed (again, there’s that fancy lingo) which can be the writer’s own musings, pieces with interviews are required. 

How would you like to talk to an astronaut who lived in the international space station, or an up-and-coming actress just finishing her stint in a hit Netflix series, or the head of an esteemed Atlanta private school that has a great newspaper class? Brushes with the famous is what has happened and continues to happen on a regular basis as the OnLion team reaches inside and outside of Lovett to find intriguing stories. Many Lovett alumni graciously share their experiences with current students inspiring us to move along our own chosen path of success. They are not the only ones to share their stories, and the newspaper allows us to find the hidden gems who teach and mentor students each day. 

As Mr. Newman put it, “Fantastic interviews with the head of school, a great sit-down with a teacher, or a student who opens up, that’s the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes, the candy canes and icing of the school newspaper.” He smiled at his own absurd collection of metaphors.

There’s truth in the saying, “you’ll never know if you don’t ask.” The newspaper gives us that forum to ask questions and learn a little more about others and ourselves.

While I’m talking about the content of the newspaper, I also need to talk about the word: newspaper. Yes, the OnLion still focuses on “news,” but that awkward-sized, finger smudging paper is no more. Mr. Newman had already started the process of transitioning “The Lion” to the “OnLion” when the pandemic hit. 

Having enjoyed at least a few hard copies of the paper produced in my sophomore year, I appreciate Mr. Newman as he muses that we don’t have the experience of seeing people passing out our paper in the hallways anymore. He acknowledges that it is more of a challenge as we “work to get students' eyeballs on our stuff” in a digital world overloaded with “news.”   
Regardless of the medium, the OnLion newspaper does have a dedicated following so you may wonder how it all happens. For old movie buffs (my mom is one so I’ve seen more than the average teenager), the newsroom portrayed in films is bustling with excitement. Men in fedoras frantically clicking away at typewriters and an occasional, “stop the presses” being yelled out as they “stop the presses” (no “backspace” or “delete” was available pre-Apple) gave the appearance that this was the place to be. 

So, you may be wondering about the OnLion “newsroom.” Newspaper class allows the students to set their own goals and manage their own deadlines. As Alexis points out, “It feels like we’re treated like adults.” While this could be disastrous (considering the number of fender benders in the student parking deck, would it really be wise for teenagers to rule the world?), it actually creates the perfect environment for discussion and debate leading to thoughtfully written articles. 

Intensive subjects like diversity and inclusion, religion, and mental health are topics you may read about in the OnLion. It’s the hope that these articles leave the reader looking to learn more. It’s a powerful tool, and Mr. Newman works with the students to hone their skills as they tackle these tough issues. However, students are also encouraged to write light-hearted pieces along with more serious ones.

I wrote a wide variety myself. I’m proud of each of them, although I will confess that not every one of them had the dramatic impact that Woodward and Bernstein caused with their Watergate investigative reporting. For example, in my first year, I wrote a series of columns about my betrothal to Prince Felix of Denmark. Using my last name as a play on words, the pieces were entitled, “Maierrage Advice.” Was I engaged to be married to the Danish prince? No. Did I know the Danish prince? No. Had I even seen the Danish prince? Yes! Well, not in person. But, after a long night of studying European royal history back in middle school I had a sudden panicked thought that all the good princes had already been taken. Who would I marry when the time came? A frantic Google search eased my mind as up popped a handsome lad just a year older than me who was 8th in line to the throne of Denmark! Perfect! 

When Mr. Newman advised the class that we could write an op-ed series, it seemed only logical (well, to me anyways) to combine my thoughts around my marriage to Prince Felix with general advice about being a part of the Lovett community. It allowed me space to share opportunities available around the Lovett campus while exploring the art of comedy in the written word. 

A bit unusual, but that is the beauty of the newspaper class. It is a bit unusual. There is a vibe in this class like no other. There are requirements, there are expectations, there are deadlines, and it is a graded class. It’s a workshop-based class where the whiteboard wall is covered in Exxo markers with categories and lists of potential story topics. Mr. Newman guides the class, but he doesn’t lecture. Students mill around or slouch casually at the desks. Topics of discussion each class can range from politics to school happenings or just random conversation.

It may seem unstructured to the casual observer, but that is actually by design. I would be remiss in writing about the OnLion if I didn’t write about Mr. Newman. They are each singular but intertwined, giving newspaper class the appeal to bring back returning students each year. 

While it is possible to take the class for just one year, it is more typical for students to return year after year since you can enroll for all four years of high school. With seniors exiting each spring and a new group of freshmen appearing each fall, there are different players on the team each year. Mr. Newman loves that it has a family/team-like feel, and describes his role as more of a coach. 

At one time, he has a dozen or so students working on a dozen or so different articles and he enjoys the opportunity to meet one-on-one with students to give them feedback. Setting the tone for a more relaxed class time, the conversations can get pretty absurd at certain moments. He reels it in when necessary describing his actions as a “course correction” keeping everyone moving forward. Oddly enough, it is not necessary most of the time. Deadlines are met, and the freedom seems to encourage more creativity since students will often write more than just the required number of pieces throughout the year.

My own personal experience was one that started with a light-hearted exchange that was worthy of a sit-com pilot. On my first day of newspaper class, the students sat around in a circle. Mr. Newman asked us to share why we wanted to be a part of the newspaper class. As one of the last to speak, most of the “good” responses were already taken. I had a sudden thought when it was my turn and said simply, “I’ve come here to enlighten” to which Mr. Newman naturally asked, “And to be enlightened?” to which I replied, “No, just to enlighten.” It got a laugh, and it started the student-mentor relationship I have been fortunate to enjoy for three years. 

I’m pretty good at managing my own time, so Mr. Newman appreciated that I didn’t wait to turn in all my stories as the clock was striking midnight on the evening the quarter was ending. I’m not always good at accepting criticism, so I appreciated that Mr. Newman would let me state my case when we didn’t see eye-to-eye on a story I had written. Under his guidance, I grew as a writer, and as a person. The class dynamics changed each year, but I loved the certainty of it during the uncertain years that were my high school experience. Along with some regular high school stuff (like various boy crushes, outgrowing friends, and the stress of classwork), there were also new challenges I had to face (the pandemic that affected the world, and my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis in my Junior year). 

Through it all, the constancy of newspaper class sustained me in a way and gave me the place to write my thoughts and feelings. The light-hearted series about Prince Felix from 10th grade gave way to a series I started in 11th grade called “Milestones in a Mask.” Mr. Newman was a teacher and mentor throughout it all, keeping me on track as I maneuvered this new, unpredictable territory. When the college application process rolled around in my senior year, I asked Mr. Newman to write a recommendation on my behalf. He was an obvious choice for me, and I am grateful that he was so willing to compose it.

Speaking about the college application process, the self-grading system was quite fair. Mr. Newman says there are times when he and a student don’t quite see eye-to-eye. They may select the highest grade when a required article is still not complete. 

Overall, though, the student and Mr. Newman work through it and come to an equitable solution. As he points out, “With a class with a lot more freedom, it’s awesome because in a way it does what students want, which is to focus less on the grade.” For me, that freedom flamed an interest. The study hall wasn’t needed as I somehow found the time to make everything happen that I wanted to do. I did well in all my classes, started the Lovett Model UN Club and lots more. I’m proud to say that I will be joining the class of 2026 at Williams College and will hopefully have the opportunity to work on the college newspaper team.

It is with mixed emotions that I type my final article for the OnLion newspaper. What was an experiment in my sophomore year to push myself and explore new, uncharted waters turned out to be an important part of my High School experience as I “re-enlisted” for two more years. I honed my writing skills, recorded some fascinating interviews with people I would not likely have met otherwise, and the days in the newsroom were a new adventure with each class. My mother came to appreciate that another class was ok as long as it was a good class, and she loves reading my articles. And, I have the added bonus of saying my mom was wrong…what teenager doesn’t enjoy having that in print. Just kidding, mom…you are the best! Looking back to my first day in calls, I have to ask myself, did I enlighten anyone along the way? I hope so. As for whether I was enlightened? Yes, Mr. Newman, I was. 

Writing is a powerful tool, and print-making carries the words to new generations. I’m not the first writer to reflect that even monuments made of stone or metal will erode, but the written word can last as long as there is someone to read it. For my graduation gift, my mom wanted to get me a class ring to remind me of my 13 years at Lovett. I was charmed to find a scroll graphic that could be added to the side of the ring signifying “newspaper” was a favorite high school activity. Just above was a blank space not unlike that study hall on my proposed 10th-grade schedule. Although the character space was limited, I chose to add the letters, “OnLion.”  It fit just perfectly. It’s written in gold, and will be there for the ages…just like this article. 

One final postscript: In my interview with Mr. Newman for this article, he told me, “I’ll always be disappointed that you weren’t actually engaged to the Prince of Denmark.” Well, at least, not yet. I have to finish college and hopefully start my career in diplomacy before I settle down. However, when Prince Felix and I are officially engaged, I will make sure my staff issues the very first press badges to Mr. Newman and his current members of the OnLion so that they may attend the wedding. After all, a commoner from America marrying a Danish Prince is a great story, and it will make a fascinating article in the OnLion.
The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

Copyright © 2020 Lovett School    |    Privacy Policy