The students thought that it was just another one of Mr. Neal’s infamous Funky Fridays, but what they didn’t know was that this particular Friday–June 3, 2016– would be especially bittersweet: it wasn’t just the last Funky Friday before school got out, but Neal’s last dance-party jam day as adviser of The Northern Light.
After taking over the paper 6 years ago, Neal is stepping out of his role as the Northern Light adviser and into a different kind of “light” altogether: as Northern’s newest IB English teacher. “Leaving The NL is tough. I love the current staff; they are amazing,” he shared. “I also enjoy the whole field of journalism – writing for a real audience! I am going to greatly miss The NL and all of the students involved.” He elaborated that with his new professional responsibilities, the newspaper was probably better off in the hands of someone else so that it could continue to experience growth, success, and development regardless of the extra IB work that he would have on his plate.
The Northern Light has changed drastically during Neal’s tenure. “We have changed into a more reader friendly publication aimed at meeting all the high school students exactly where they are as readers and as teenagers,” he explained, adding that one of his goals was to get the staff to write and create for all of Northern’s students, not just those who were in the same academic or social groups as themselves. “We have also evolved The NL into a world of social media and the internet,” he added, giving a nod to the newspaper’s vibrant Twitter and Instagram accounts as well as to the constantly-updated website.
The changes that Neal has brought to The Light have not gone unnoticed by his coworkers. “He pushed the boundaries just enough to inspire interesting discussions from the content in the newspaper,” glowed English teacher Aimee Wenland. Department Chair Bonnie Herbert agreed. “He has done an amazing job,” she praised. “He has done a lot to keep the paper current; going online was a big change, and that was all his idea.”
For next year, Neal has entrusted The Northern Light to veteran journalism adviser Amanda Thorpe, who is currently finishing up her first year as an English teacher at Portage Northern but advised the newspaper at Portage Community High School for the last 7 years. “Having Mrs. Thorpe take over the leadership makes this transition a little easier as she is such a dynamic person, and her passion for journalism is genuine and legit,” Neal said. “With her leading the staff, The NL is in a great place and I can’t wait to see where the publication goes.”
While he is leaving the newsroom, Neal has many cherished memories of his time with The Northern Light that he will always carry with him. “Probably my most memorable moment was publishing the first edition as adviser. I was certainly naive and still learning the process, but we put out a pretty decent paper. I was proud of the staff as they were working with a new adviser while still keeping the publication going…without a doubt, I will miss the students involved with The NL. The current staff – and the staff in general most years – are creative and passionate students who not only create great articles and publications, but are also charismatic and enjoyable people with whom to work.”
Walter Kronkite had, “and that’s the way it is.” Ron Burgundy rocked, “You stay classy, San Diego.” Mr. Neal’s sign off isn’t a signature phrase, but instead a letter of adoration for his staff. He writes:
“Dear Staff – Thank you for an amazing professional experience with journalism and The Northern Light. Whether advising or simply being your biggest fan now, I will forever cherish The NL! Mrs. Thorpe will take you to higher journalistic grounds, and I can’t wait to see the great things you all will do. Please allow her to come right in and be your leader – she is legit – and I am proud to hand her the future of the publication. By the way, you better keep dancing!!! Finally, work your way to the nut, commit to the publication, and, Cortney, let me say it, ‘WIN on Three…’”