I CAN STILL remember, with detail, my first day of high school journalism class. I sat in one of the back corners, near the windows, to have a potential visual diversion if my attention wandered — an out I wouldn’t end up needing. There was that particular smell of chalk and disinfectant that infuses all of my memories of my school days.

Kids are learning, having fun — and maybe even finding a career — at Nathan Hale’s radio station

Mrs. Korthaus was well into her third decade of teaching. She could be gruff and intimidating, but also retained her passion for the craft, which she passed on to her students. Mrs. K described the subject and what made a good journalist: a willingness to keep an open mind and talk to strangers; an innate sense of curiosity was a plus. She gave us all our first assignment, a simple report of a few hundred words for the school paper. The topic was up to us.

I wish I could remember what I wrote about, but that part escapes me. The feeling of achievement that filing that first story gave me, though, I remember well. That this was something I could do, and could be really good at. It was as if a door had appeared in the middle of a blank wall I’d never even previously considered.

Dropping in on the radio students at Nathan Hale High School offered the opportunity to watch these kids have that same epiphany in real time.

The Tuesday that photographer Ken Lambert and I visited was the first day that many of the students were allowed to step into the studios themselves; their first week had been all sit-down instruction in a nearby classroom. They were understandably nervous — one of the kids poked his head out in a panic, saying that the “on-air” light was flashing on and off, visibly relieved when assured that he wasn’t live.

The microphones were off, the soundboards not being transmitted anywhere. The students were instructed to go wild, to follow their instincts wherever they might lead. The first day in the studio was just about getting comfortable. 

And they did, eventually. The headsets felt more natural; they stood up a little straighter when talking into the unplugged mics. They began to see themselves in this world, and to feel as though they belonged. It was awesome.