McAllen educator to receive prestigious award in scholastic journalism

BY JOHN HOANG

STAFF WRITER

McALLEN — A room here filled with old yearbooks, a cluttered desk and papers sprawled across the whiteboard — this is where Kelsey Martin has spent three decades of her life.

The McAllen Memorial High School publications adviser said her work life is like “organized chaos,” running the student newspaper, yearbook and coordinating six event categories for academic UIL competition. Martin has spent 26 years as a teacher and about four years in the classroom she currently teaches, from learning the ropes of journalism to educating future generations to build a strong work ethic for their careers.

“My day is never the same day twice,” Martin said. “Every day I walk in this room … who knows what’s going to happen during the day.”

The Interscholastic League Press Conference awarded Martin the Edith Fox King award, which is in recognition for a teacher who has spent at least 10 years in teaching scholastic journalism. The publications adviser will be honored in a banquet in Austin on Saturday. A colleague from Austin nominated her for the award.

“I never thought that I would be up for (an) award like that, it really took me off guard. I’m very honored and humbled by it…,” she said. “This just came out of nowhere, and that I think made it a little bit more special, it was such a surprise to me.”

Martin has been teaching scholastic journalism for 26 years and is the district’s first journalism teacher to receive the honor, according to the news release.

A poster with “Buy your yearbook” in Arabic, Spanish and various languages is affixed to the entrance of her room along with trophies displaying the program’s achievements.

Martin also coaches Academic UIL in six categories from features, editorials, news, headlines, copy editing along with current issues and events.

She has several teachers in her family and it was quite natural for her to go into the profession, she said. Journalism appealed to her because she enjoyed speaking and meeting people, she said. Going into education combined both her passion for journalism and a family tradition.

Students taking her class have varied in personality and first impressions, she said.

Among these was a class clown who displayed such innate writing talent she initially thought he plagiarized a paper. Another was a shy girl, reluctant to speak, who became an entertainment journalist for a national news outlet.

Giving students a degree of independence in the newspaper and yearbook component, they need to be willing to talk to principals, coaches and those in positions of influence, she said. She values initiative, organizational skills and writing in journalistic style for student editors.

“This is their publication, this is what they are responsible for, and so I really try to push student-led publication. This should be their thing, not mine,” Martin said.

Even though not all of her students go into journalism after graduating high school, “they can use the commitment that they had in high school journalism to help them when they are applying to colleges.”

“It just shows a lot of work ethic that my students have,” she said.

Throughout the years, her teaching methods and resources changed with the times. Different personalities add to the unpredictability of her job.

“My kids really shape what my day is going to be like a lot of times,” she said.

Teaching journalism has changed as mediums become digital and computerized. As an admirer and teacher of photojournalism, there were tough times in modernizing the classroom. For instance, there was “darkroom” but it was torn down to make more space for computers.

Checking phone notifications to become “worldly” rather than just looking at print newspapers were among the shifts made toward ensuring her students obtain a modern education, she said.

Staying late nights to complete her duties comes with the job. Many other teachers may feel reluctant to make that commitment, but Martin decided to remain committed to her work.

“I think it’s really the love that I have for journalism and the love that I have for students, and this school,” Martin said.

The time and collaboration has paid off to solidify the program’s reputation to her standard.

“Memorial High School has a great reputation in scholastic journalism,” Martin said. “But it’s something we have worked really hard to get.”

Despite offers for positions for other schools, Martin decided to stay in the same school she entered as a student. Throughout her teaching career she has started a family and gone through other life phases.

“This is a family, this is my second home,” she said. “I’ve actually spent more years in this classroom than I have anywhere else my whole life.”