Bouncing up and down in a bus for six hours, living with my teachers for 72 hours, and long 12 hour days under school rules sounds miserable, right? Well, as I sit in the beautiful Columbia University library reminiscing over four years of traveling to New York City with GM’s journalism program, I am here to tell you that the experience is far from undesirable.

I have been lucky enough to spend three days in New York City at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) Conference for the past four years, and within those collective 12 days, the memories are everlasting. The conference is three days of different classes taught by professors, high school advisers, and professional journalists who preach the gospel of great journalism and reporting.

The days are spent making new friends and continually getting inspired to learn and do more. After the conference, staff and advisers usually head to an annual broadway show, HighLine Park, or the busy SOHO streets. The days are packed, but the normal hum drum of school that puts me to sleep is far from the adrenaline of walking the streets of NYC.

Posing in front of Columbia’s beautiful library on the last day of the conference is an annual tradition that caps off each trip. (Photo courtesy of Anna Connole)

Posing in front of Columbia’s beautiful library on the last day of the conference is an annual tradition that caps off each trip. (Photo courtesy of Anna Connole)

Since my four trips to NYC, I have become more independent and ambitious to use the resources open to me. My last year, I even had the opportunity to speak at the conference. The seemingly daunting experience of planning and speaking has given me a new source of confidence that I know I could only get from having the opportunity to attend this experience.

Not only are the experiences throughout the days fulfilling, but so are the relationships built when living with your peers and teachers for 72 hours. Students are used to seeing teachers in one setting: the classroom. However, I will always remember my freshman year, sitting in a chinese tea house in Chinatown getting to know English teacher Mrs. Karin Tooze. We had spent the afternoon walking through Little Italy and smelling the aromas of Chinatown, but the best part was getting to know Tooze.

Not only did she get to know me a bit better, but I also got to know her on a personal level. This made me feel like we both had stepped out of the mundane student-teacher interaction, and instead I truly felt like I had built a relationship with another person. Consequently, when I had Tooze for eleventh grade English, the transition and introduction was easy since we had already gotten to know one another.

Now I am not just saying all these amazing parts of the trip to make people jealous or force people to sign up for any of GM’s publications (which you should), but more to promote and encourage GM to provide more off campus experiences for GM students. The opportunity to learn from other people outside of the small Falls Church community (students, teachers, professionals) is one that has impacted my high school career, and would positively impact other students for years to come.

Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson

Lasso Staff, 2012-16
Melissa Johnson

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