Sherman’s mission: a newspaper by students, for students

The first-year Holly Spirit adviser’s approach to the Holly Spirit stems from her own experience as a student journalist


Sherman as a staff member of the A-Blast in 2001

Mr. Connolly, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

In 2006, a journalism adviser named Alan Weintraut, from Annandale High School in Virginia, was named the National High School Teacher of the Year.  In his acceptance speech, he said, of journalism teachers, that  “we keep kids engaged in the civic process, we bring them to real-world learning experiences, and they make publications and products that will stay with them forever. In short, we change students’ lives.”

Among Mr. Weintraut’s students along the way is none other than our Holly Spirit adviser, Mrs. Sarah Sherman.  According to Sherman, her formative years with Weintraut have been one key to the newspaper’s success this year.

Although involved in publications in both undergraduate and graduate school, Sherman considers her time with Weintraut to be her “number one experience.”   Beyond the impact that Weintraut had on her as a student, it is clear that Weintraut’s approach to advising influenced how Sherman has led this year’s reincarnation of RV’s school newspaper.

She described how Weintraut’s editors ran the staff meetings and managed who was bringing what food to deadline meetings. “I really liked the idea of producing something that was by students and for students,” Sherman explained. 

I really liked the idea of producing something that was by students and for students.”

— Mrs. Sherman

“It was a truly student-run product, and I really wanted to try and recreate that with the Holly Spirit,” Sherman said. “I wanted to create systems that would allow students to be self-sufficient but also take risks.”  

Sherman’s editors-in-chief,  seniors Shea Smith and Hamilton Scudder, can attest to how Sherman’s approach to re-launching the newspaper has fulfilled that vision.  And they are equally certain that Sherman deserves much of the credit for this year.

While both editors concede that Sherman does not like being acknowledged, Smith said, “Sometimes, you just need to be told that you’re doing a good job.  And I feel like if she could tell herself that, it would be awesome.” 

Scudder added that while Sherman started recruiting students for journalism class in early 2020, once the pandemic hit, “she was really bummed out that it wasn’t going to happen.”  And yet the hundreds of stories published and growing presence of the Holly Spirit in year one are, according to Scudder, “a testament to how much work Sherman has put in.”

While Sherman might be reluctant to accept that praise, she echoes her editors’ amazement with what her students have accomplished during this pandemic.   

“I can’t believe we have done this,” Sherman said. “I can’t believe that the students have meetings on their own.” Recalling how much she enjoyed her high school journalism experience, Sherman is perhaps even more pleased in noting “how much they’ve enjoyed doing it.”   

An example of that fun would be the all-staff meetings that often include numerous staff member shout-outs to fellow staffers.  Smith and Scudder both mentioned Sherman’s sense of humor as something that has made all of this hard work that much more fun. Scudder admitted that Sherman muting him during meetings is actually a fun memory from this year. 

Sherman was not shy in her praise of her two senior EICs.  “Shea and Hamilton have set the bar high,” Sherman said of her inaugural editors. Sherman added that other members of the team have certainly contributed mightily to the editing process.

“By the time a story gets to me, it’s been pretty well-edited,” she said.  And those editors have certainly done it all this year: fact checking, looking for bias, proofreading and even finding plagiarism and fabricated quotes.

But all of that is part of Sherman’s vision.  “I think it’s really valuable for students to make mistakes and learn and grow from them.”

Sherman’s time as a graduate student at the University of Virginia was a whole different kind of learning experience.  Serving as the Arts and Culture Editor for the Cavalier Daily (yes, a DAILY paper) rekindled her love of journalism.  Her work as an academic coordinator for the UVA football team sparked an interest in teaching.  

Next thing she knew, she was leaving her PhD track in Modern Literature to pursue a career as an English teacher. 

Smith and Scudder are among those who are glad Sherman made that decision.  

Beyond their appreciation for what they have learned about journalism, both editors spoke of how understanding Sherman is.  “She’s a real person,” Smith said, “and she puts time and effort into creating relationships with her students.  Because of that, it makes us even more motivated to keep going.”

“She builds others up,” Scudder added. “This whole thing has been very much confidence-boosting for me.” He considers one of the key lessons he learned from Sherman was that “if you do the best you can do, be confident in it.”

Smith’s big takeaway from working under Sherman has been simply that “you just gotta keep going.”  She mentioned times when many articles were in process and “it felt like there was too much to do,” but Sherman taught her to just keep moving forward.

Sherman surely appreciates these benefits for her students, but her mission is much larger.  “I want to inspire them, because the world needs more journalists,” she said.  Noting that Smith is already inquiring about the newspaper at Drexel University (which she will attend in the fall),  Sherman said she wants her journalists to “feel so empowered and comfortable taking risks and responsibilities here, that they want to do it in college.”

Still, Sherman knows that journalism has changed substantially in recent years. “Everything is political now,” she said, adding that with the “echo chamber of social media,” it is much harder for students today to find objectivity.

Those challenges have not dampened Sherman’s aspirations for the future of the Holly Spirit.  Higher enrollment in journalism class, critiques and competitions, a larger online presence and C220 as a “journalism space” where students can confer face-to-face, are among the next steps for Sherman and her staff. 

In the end, Sherman’s mentor–Alan Weintraut–should be proud of his former student. Although Sherman was not present for his acceptance speech back in 2006, she has gone beyond emulating her journalism teacher.  He challenged his journalism colleagues to “change students’ lives,” and Sherman is doing just that.  

It is very likely that she is also continuing the cycle Weintraut started: perhaps Sherman’s students will one day follow her path and choose to lead the next generation of young journalists.