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This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Opinion >  Column

Rob Curley: Our interns are cooler than your interns (and probably a whole lot younger)

For the second consecutive summer, with funding from Bank of America, The Spokesman-Review hosted the nation’s only paid high school journalism internship

They are from high schools across the area: Mead, Rogers, Deer Park and Lewis and Clark. Before coming together in The Spokesman-Review newsroom eight weeks ago, they had never met each other. Even those who were from the same schools. There aren’t many ways they could possibly be any more different from each other.

Now they are the closest of friends.

That’s what happens when six teenagers get a summer internship that is unlike any other high school job in the nation. Molly Wisor, Mathew Callaghan, Nwannediya Kalu, Jase Picanso, Carly Dykes and Sidiq Moltafet just finished the only paid high school journalism internship in the United States.

This unique program was funded through a grant from Bank of America aimed at creating interesting summer jobs for teenagers.

“Interesting” is definitely one way of describing their summer in the working newsroom of a daily newspaper.

They all now know what it’s like to talk to complete strangers about complicated issues. In a mall parking lot. Or what it’s like to ask a sitting member of Congress questions about international politics or social media privacy issues.

They spent an entire morning with the chief of police, talking about anything and everything.

They walked a campus with a university president, discussing their concerns and questions regarding higher education, while also trying to understand what they could do to not only be better prepared for college life, but how to get an experience and education that will help them throughout their lives.

They even got training from the fire department that they will talk about for their rest of their lives. But that also might be the case with their discussions and experiences with local CEOs, Hollywood actors, famous novelists and a James Beard-nominated chef … who fed them guacamole with crickets in it.

But they mostly wrote stories. Lots and lots of stories. That ran in our newspaper. They also all have a healthy new respect for the surprisingly huge interest in stories about the weather. Well, at least most of them do.

There was a day in late July when every single news story on the cover of the Northwest section was written by one of our high school interns – including three weather stories. One story was about the 100-degree days forecasted for the weekend, another was about controversies related to the city’s cooling center policies and the third was about how to protect older loved ones from the dangerous heat.

So, these weren’t just run-of-the-mill weather stories. They put some real thought into them. Just like they did for the rest of the stories they wrote this summer.

Then there was the thrill of seeing one of their stories on the front page, which happened a whole lot more than you might expect.

They all now know firsthand that regardless of whatever your favorite holiday is, having a story on the front page of your local newspaper is better. Way better. And don’t even get them started on what it feels like to have the lead story on the front page, which happened earlier this week.

Before this summer, most of them didn’t understand the power of holding a printed newspaper, and how different it is than just reading something online. The lost art of cutting stories out of a newspaper to share with others has now been revived in a Spokane by a completely different generation.

Yet none of those things was their biggest takeaways from a summer in a newsroom.

It was the power of local journalism that hit them the hardest. They saw how their words could change things, or make someone smile, or teach them something they didn’t know, or help someone take better care of the people they love.

Though most of them have spent their entire lives in Spokane, they learned more about their community in a few months than they had in all of their previous years combined.

They all got to that point in different ways, and through very different journeys.

Some speak multiple languages. Some are artists who also are fantastic dancers. Some play varsity sports. Some care deeply about political issues that directly affect their daily lives.

Because none of their schools has a student newspaper anymore, they have claimed The Spokesman-Review as their new school newspaper. They even have shirts that say that.

They worked side-by-side with full-time reporters, photographers, editors and designers, chasing local stories and trying to get people to call them back. When the newsroom bell rang each afternoon, signifying the beginning of the daily news meeting, they dropped whatever they were doing and immediately headed into a conference room filled with editors.

They also gave The Spokesman-Review something special. Newsrooms are amazing places. There aren’t many workspaces that feel like a newsroom. They have a certain energy.

But nothing like the energy our newsroom had over the past eight weeks.

It was a little louder. A whole lot chattier. And, dare it be said, a lot more fun. When editors and reporters began to realize the interns’ last day was Friday, there was even a little sadness that the youngest members of our newsroom were working their last day.

That’s when we realized that was just goofy – not because we felt that way, but because we didn’t need to feel that way. There was another solution. So, don’t be surprised if you continue to see our high school interns’ bylines in The Spokesman-Review over the next several months.

Many of them are now transitioning from the coolest summer internship ever to absolutely the best after-school job in Spokane.

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