As published by The Oklahoman

It’s a special moment when a news organization is able to call itself “award winning,” and that’s exactly what EPIC Charter Schools’ EPIC News Network (ENN) is now able to do. The state’s first-ever statewide student journalism program for high school students took home multiple awards (including several “superior”) from Oklahoma Scholastic Media’s (OSM) monthly contest.

OSM is housed in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma and has a mission of training, educating and assisting scholastic media advisors and students statewide.

In addition to both being OSM members, ENN co-directors M. Scott Carter and Phil Cross have more than a few awards of their own, earning numerous awards during their 60 years of combined experience in reporting, editing and teaching.

The pair of veteran journalists created ENN not as a public relations tool for EPIC but as a way for high school students in 77 counties to learn the trade and create a news network of print, broadcast, digital and podcasts of their local news, as well as happenings at the state Capitol.

“As someone who has devoted their entire professional life to teaching and journalism, I couldn’t be more excited to nurture a new generation of journalists,” said Carter, who most recently was a professor of journalism at Oklahoma City Community College and advisor to its award-winning student newspaper. “This is solemn work and a genuine honor for me.”

Cross came to ENN from KOKH FOX 25, where he won an Emmy for his governmental reporting in 2017.

“The quality of work our students are producing is exceptional,” Cross said, adding that ENN served some 30 students in its first semester, with that number significantly growing – more each day – in the school’s second semester. “Journalism is a multifaceted endeavor, and instilling that into this group of talented kids is incredibly rewarding.”

One of those kids is freshman Maycee Elerick, 14. She joined ENN last semester after her teacher suggested she might find it interesting. She said she’s always had an interest in writing but that interest has grown since coming to ENN.

“Usually in school, you’re writing a five-paragraph essay for just your teacher,” Elerick said, indicating she is looking forward to covering events at the State Capitol when the next legislative session begins in February. “I’ve learned to write for a wider audience and to make it my own. It’s liberating.”

It’s still up in the air for Elerick in terms of what she wants to do after high school, but she said she has her eyes set on being a therapist so she can help people. She said the interviewing skills she is learning from Carter and Cross are extremely helpful.

“It’s a great tool to have if you want to be a therapist,” she said. “It’s about being able to communicate better.”

Kenzie Watson and Maycee Elerick prepare for a broadcast on the EPIC News Network.

Kenzie Watson, 15, is a sophomore and an ENN student who joined this semester. She enjoys dance and theater and, like Elerick, came to ENN following a suggestion from her teacher.

Watson said because of the engaging and welcoming way Carter and Cross have structured the ENN classroom, her already growing interest in news and writing has led her to consider it as a possible career.

“It’s interesting to learn so much about so many different things, and ENN has helped me stay more connected to the world around me,” she said. “Now, because of ENN, I’m gaining experience in video editing and producing, and maybe that’s something I want to do later in life.”

Kara Lee Langford is an EPIC graduate and one of Carter’s former OCCC students. She credits him with igniting her love of journalism and wishes ENN had been an option for her when she was in high school. She now attends journalism school at the University of Oklahoma and is one of six students selected to take part in the prestigious Gaylord News in Washington Fellowship, spending this semester in Washington, DC, covering the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s not until college that you usually get to explore different career options. So, a program like this in high school could be a beneficial gateway into actually knowing what you want to do when you eventually go to college,” Langford said.

That’s exactly what ENN is supposed to do, said Cross.

“By providing content to news outlets statewide, our students will leave high school with a portfolio of published work that will make them very attractive to any hiring newsroom,” he said. “And, not only are we providing our students a path for the future but we’re doing the same for local news.”

For more information about ENN and to subscribe to its content, visit epicnewsnetwork.org.