Unless something changes….. BFA Mercury coming to an end


From left: Former BFA Mercury Editor-In-Chief Robbie Maher, VT Governor Phil Scott, Mercury adviser Peter Riegelman and current Mercury Editor-In-Chief Ambyr Wagner take a picture after House Bill 513 was signed into law.

Robbie Maher, Former Mercury Editor-In-Chief

The following was an op-ed written by former BFA Mercury Editor-In-Chief Robbie Maher. It was originally published in the St. Albans Messenger.

As a student who is preparing to embark on his post-BFA St. Albans career, I am deeply saddened to hear of the possibility of abolishing the school’s historic newspaper.

As a school, and community in general, St. Albans has always taken great pride in its roots and heritage. In fact, the school’s mantra is “Tradition Never Graduates.” Knowing this, it is befuddling to me to hear conversations focused on the longevity of Vermont’s longest running high school newspaper.

After discussions with BFA Principal Chris Mosca, it was determined that the reasoning for almost certainly disbanding the student press -that was founded in 1930, BFA’s inaugural year- is that the anticipated participation for the 2018-19 school year is lower than usual. BFA being at a substantial low point in the overall size of the student body also has played a role in the current but not necessarily final decision to discontinue journalism as an elective offering.

Longtime BFA Mercury supporter and BFA Principal Chris Mosca speaks during a Maple Run Unified School District meeting.

Like any other organization, numbers will fluctuate. According to data collected from BFA Assistant Principal Shannon Warden, 16 elective offerings have been slashed from BFA since 2014 -these being non core classes. The reduction of many wonderful electives at BFA surely plays a role in school choice and as to whether or not neighboring students who do not have a high school in their town would commit to the school with a dipping enrollment and fewer electives.

Even so, the BFA journalism program cannot be compared to an average BFA elective as the storied program in the past two years has become recognized both at the state and national levels. In May of 2017, The Mercury collaborated extensively alongside a national effort entitled New Voices USA to protect high school journalists First Amendment rights. I personally traveled to Montpelier to testify in front of the Judiciary Committee on behalf of the bill and when Governor Scott signed it into law, members of the Mercury and I were personally congratulated by the Republican on the accomplishment.

As described by the Student Press Law Center, Vermont House Bill 513 “protects students in public colleges and K-12 schools against censorship of work produced for school-affiliated student media, and also protects faculty advisers against retaliation for defending their students’ rights or refusing to engage in legally prohibited censorship.”

VT Governor Phil Scott signs House Bill 513 into law in May of 2017.

In short, the law protects students from having their work censored or in some cases not published at all by school administrative teams -which was a common practice in Vermont, including Burlington High School until this past May.

The monumental signing of the bill saw those from the Mercury involved featured on the cover of numerous local newspapers as well as the cover of Education Week, a nationally recognized news source and paper which covers K-12 education. I will go out on a limb and say that this was the only national attention BFA received last year, and yes, it was positive.

In the programs decades of existence, The BFA Mercury has formed longstanding relationships with many prominent St. Albans businesses -including the St. Albans Messenger. The student paper has also provided many students -including myself- with opportunities that quite frankly are just not found in a classroom setting.

Adding to the irony of the situation, at the state level, major efforts are being made to provide students with opportunities outside of the classroom. Act 77, also known as Flexible Pathways “encourages and supports the creativity of school districts as they develop and expand high-quality educational experiences that are an integral part of secondary education in the evolving 21st-century classroom. Flexible pathways also promote opportunities for Vermont students to achieve postsecondary readiness through high-quality educational experiences that acknowledge individual goals.”

In the last 10-15 years, numerous students including myself have progressed from the Mercury to the Messenger to get “real-world” experiences and in cases like my own find employment while still in high school. BFA Journalism could be seen as a “poster child” for the school to workplace law.

BFA Journalism has also sent students to prestigious programs such as the New England High School Journalism Collaborative (NEHSJC) at the Boston Globe. Having attended this personally in 2015 and current journalism student Julia Scott a semifinalist in the 2018 selection process, the school paper is clearly regarded as a force in the eyes of a prominent organization in New England.

BFA student represented at NEHSJC at the Boston Globe

Without the guidance of The Mercury advisor Peter Riegelman, I would not be where I am today. As editor-in-chief of The Mercury from 2015-2017, I was fortunate enough to have led The Mercury through the events listed above. Since that point, as mentioned, I have moved on to become a feature sports writer for the Messenger.

In short, I believe disbanding the paper would make a sad commentary on our school and community. To terminate an organization after arguably it has had its most successful decade would be illogical and would most certainly contradict the schools claim to longstanding tradition.

Unless something changes, the 88-year chapter of BFA Journalism could close at the end of this school year. Although the decision is not entirely final, and wishes from longtime Mercury supporter and school principal Chris Mosca to keep the paper intact stand, the final decision will be made by the school board in the following weeks.

I encourage all those who are in favor of student press and a longstanding tradition such as the Mercury to voice for the organization.