Valerie Kibler never saw herself teaching journalism, but the idea of her own classroom changed her mind.
Five years into teaching English at a school in Southwest Virginia, Kibler had never had a classroom of her own, having to rotate working spaces. She was asked by the school principal to be the newspaper adviser and teach journalism. The incentive — her very own classroom.
That was more than 30 years ago, and the rest is history. Kibler was recently named an inductee to the Virginia High School Hall of Fame, an honor that Kibler would say is “nice,” but is quick to change the subject to the accomplishments of her students.
A lot has changed in student journalism over the years. She started with a group of 10 students and now has a “full classroom load.” The first student publication she helped advise was an eight-page tabloid. Now the Harrisonburg High School paper, the Newsstreak, is a 32-page broadsheet.
“There are so many more ways that have to report,” Kibler said of her students now versus 30 years ago. Along with the print edition, the Newsstreak staff also runs a website and four different social media accounts.
One of the many things that Kibler has learned over the years is that you cannot discount teenagers’ opinions or label them as immature.
“I’ve seen kids in situations make more mature decisions than adults, whether it’s to run a story or not, or how to report it,” Kibler said.
Making editorial decisions about reporting on issues can be challenging. Kibler always reminds her students that what they write has an impact on the community. While not everything that’s reported can be positive, because there are always areas that can be improved upon, the goal is always to see a positive outcome, Kibler said.
Kibler has worked with nine or 10 principals over the years. One was incredibly supportive, but the rest have also wanted what’s best for the students and that includes allowing them to report on issues, good and bad.
“There are things that need to be fixed, and they are very open to listening to that,” Kibler said. “We’ve tried so hard to have open lines of communication.”
Kibler is a a graduate of Stonewall Jackson High School in Mount Jackson. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Virginia Tech in 1988 and a master’s in journalism from Kent State University in 2014.
She started her teaching and newspaper adviser career at Marion High School in 1988 and spent 10 years there advising the newspaper, coaching varsity volleyball and track, and advising the student government.
She moved to Harrisonburg High School, where she continued in her advising and coaching capacity. She has grown the Newsstreak into a nationally recognized and award-winning publication.
Her accolades include 1999 Richmond Times-Dispatch Journalism Teacher of the Year, 2005 Harrisonburg Teacher of the Year, 2006 VAJTA Thomas Jefferson Award for Advising, 2010 Southern Interscholastic Press Association Distinguished Adviser Award, 2010 Dow Jones News Fund National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year, 2011 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Key, 2014 National Scholastic Press Pioneer Award, and the 2014 Journalism Education Association Medal of Merit.