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Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 12:40 pm

The Honors Junior English Department at Desert Vista High School was tired of only seeing stories that painted public education in a negative light.

The idea of bringing news about the positives, to change public perception, sparked an idea within one of those DV teachers. That idea turned into a project of teamwork and passion which culminated in the form of a website after months of work by the students.

The five classes and more than 100 students worked together on ideas, structure and content for a standalone website, called The Thunder Project, www.thethunderproject.org. It was the first time such a project has been undertaken, and was envisioned by teachers Jennifer Atkins and Deborah Benedict.

“They are both very passionate about the subject and they wanted to do something more meaningful for this year’s classes,” said Zak Ferrara, student and assistant editor of the website. “We hear things all over that public education is failing. But it is succeeding for us.”

They currently have 12 research articles written and posted by Honors Junior English students. These topics range from news about their own Tempe Union High School District to stories about the arts, gifted programs and how states are working hard to improve all-around graduation rates. The stories can be any length but they must be thoroughly researched with sources cited at the bottom of each write-up. The project responsibilities replaced what previously used to be just a research paper for their Junior English requirement.

“Students take the time to search for the positive stories from around the country,” said Zack Hubbard, who is in charge of publicity for the project. “We have put a lot of effort into this and are proud of what we have accomplished so far.”

The students share responsibilities, which included several stages of editing and the design and implementation of the website.

What it is changing within them, Ferrara said, is their overall opinion of public education. They say the national media focuses on the negative stories because that is what brings in viewers. They hope to change the public opinion, and their own, through the merits and content of the website.

“I’ve become more hopeful about public education since starting the website,” Ferrara said. “We want to prove the naysayers wrong.”

They have planted the seed with the website and hope that future classes will continue to water it, building up the reader base and expanding its outreach. They have done a good job already, with more than 3,000 views in the first few weeks.

“We want it to be accessible to everyone,” said Austin Tielke, who worked on the technological side of the website. “This is the pilot program. The plan is for future students to continue this and expand upon what we have started.”

To view the website, visit www.thethunderproject.org.

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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