Serving as a platform for developing journalists to improve their abilities through the guidance of experienced mentors and guest speakers, the Florida Scholastic Press Association (FSPA) District 5 Convention has been a beneficial learning experience ever since its creation in 1946. After a long period of time wherein the FSPA District 5 Convention was not held, the event was recently revived by journalism adviser Chris Lenerz.
The event, hosted at the State College of Florida’s (SCF) Venice location Oct. 26, was an opportunity for journalism students to immerse themselves in the field. This conference acts as a prelude to the bigger FSPA convention in the spring. The three day convention held during the spring is a meeting of all districts in Florida, but each district has a convention to prepare beforehand. FSPA is a longer series of collaborative and pro-active events, comprised of over 300 student publications throughout Florida, while district conferences are a more intimate method of sharing and comparing local publications.
“I was noticing I felt like an outsider [at the main FSPA conference] and I realized it was because everyone knew each other from their districts. I had given up being the department chair for world language and had stopped coaching my kids in their youth sports, so I had more time [to be a district director],” Lenerz said. “I wanted to advance Pine View within FSPA and create a better environment for journalism students and encourage other schools to create their own.”
Counties in District 5, such as Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota County brought their expertise to share with other journalism programs. Venice Christian School came to represent their yearbook program. “It is a good experience to be here because this is my first time ever coming to something like this and I feel like everyone is welcoming and encouraging to other groups even though we are the only people who do not go to the same school,” tenth-grader Savannah Hemp of Venice Christian School said.
What made this trip notable were the guest speakers: Associate Editor of Sarasota Magazine Cooper Levey-Baker, Walsworth yearbook sales representative Sabrina Schmitz, Samantha Bott and Morgan Gipson from Lifetouch, and Ciara Coleman from Mommy Magazine. Both Lenerz and The Torch’s Assistant News Editor and photography enthusiast, ninth-grader Clyde Morgan and also gave presentations. Each presented their individual expertise, giving students from grades 7 to 12 information they will be able to reference throughout their journalism careers.
These speakers encouraged accountable talk between students to the point where presentations were cut short due to the constructive and encouraging conversations between several publications; students compared and contrasted their work and left with productive ideas on how to improve. “FSPA is a really important event for us… We attend a bunch of workshops throughout the day and get to meet new people with different perspectives in the same field as us, so it’s pertinent to our growth as a publication,” Editor-in-Chief of The Torch and twelfth-grader, Melissa Santoyo, said. “Besides that, it is a lot of fun and we get to grow closer as staff members and as friends. Torch is like a family and FSPA helps us get closer because throughout the school year it is hard to have [such] a genuine learning and bonding experience.”