By Anna Mallory
Looking back over my eight-year journalism career, I realize every story I've had published has roots in the cafeteria of Charleston Newspapers.
That's where I first worked with FlipSide editors Marina Hendricks and Kerri Barnhart, who taught me that being a shy kid didn't diminish what I had to say or the questions I had to ask. They wanted to know what a group of kids who loved to write had to say about their communities and their schools.
I wrote for FlipSide in high school, penning a variety of stories from a firsthand account of life without a driver's license to news about scheduling changes and features about local charities.
It was exciting, seeing my byline in print. But I understand now that it was more than just vanity.
Being a correspondent forced me to think about my surroundings. My experiences taught me that everyone has a story. It gave me a voice, and a chance to ask administrators some tough questions, but it also gave me a glimpse of what the future could hold.
Without FlipSide, I might not have known that my writing -- my ideas -- mattered, and that I had rights as a student to question what was happening in the world.
I took the tenets I picked up reporting and crafting FlipSide stories to college, where I worked as an editor for the student newspaper and earned a degree in print journalism. Today, just like when I was 16, I continue to write about schools, hoping the issues I bring to light or the practices I explain help to educate others.
Teachers often ask me to talk to their student journalism or English classes. Without fail, I tell them about my time working for FlipSide and the spark it provided for my career.
I can see the same spark in them. They yearn to know that they can question what's happening in their schools and that they can weigh in on their communities. Many, however, are hindered by policies and laws that preclude what can be written in their own school-based publications.
I think FlipSide answers some of those desires for West Virginia's teens. It allows aspiring writers an outlet of expression that's not policed by administrators and one that can also hone their creativity.
More importantly, it has launched careers and confidence.
Anna Mallory graduated from St. Albans High School in 1999. She is currently an education reporter at The Roanoke Times in Virginia.