Teaching students to use the truth: Lori Keekley, award-winning St. Louis Park teacher, inspires student journalists

Lori Keekley
As a journalism teacher, Lori Keekley is passionate about protecting students’ First Amendment rights. (Photo courtesy of Mark Vancleave and Kelly Saybe)

Work isn’t work for Lori Keekley.

For her, “work” is letting her journalism students run the show while teaching them camera skills and giving them the confidence to grow.

But don’t be mistaken – Keekley works hard as a national award-winning journalism teacher at St. Louis Park High School.

“I’ve always called it school, I never call it work, because to me it’s not work,” said Keekley, the teacher and adviser for the Echo, the high school’s student newspaper and website. “I’ve been given this gift of being able to work with high school students on a daily basis. It’s the best gig ever.”

Keekley didn’t initially intend to be a teacher, but she’s been in the classroom for 17 years, including 15 years as the teacher and adviser for the Echo. And recently, she was named the 2016 Dow Jones News Fund National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year, the second Minnesota teacher to ever win the award.

In high school, Keekley became involved in her school newspaper and yearbook, and then worked on the paper as a college student at Indiana University. The Indiana Daily Student, where she was a copy chief, became Keekley’s outlet to write and “make a difference through those stories,” she said.

Entering Indiana University with a passion for journalism, Keekley eventually found her way into education. After a teaching evaluation, an administrator inspired her with the reminder that she can teach students through her own interests.

Lori Keekley, right, a journalism teacher and advisor at St. Louis Park High School, recently was named the Dow Jones News Fund National Journalism Teacher of the Year. Keekley says she lets the students run the show and allows them room to grow. (Submitted photo)

“It’s working with students that really is my passion,” Keekley said, “and then I have a passion for journalism, so the two just naturally go together.”

Keekley’s teaching style includes setting an organic ambience and tossing lecture-like teaching aside. “I don’t sit down at a computer and write anything, I’m not doing a layout, I’m not taking photos,” she said. “I just help.”

It also includes being open-minded to the diverse voices of her students and protecting their First Amendment rights.

“If we just live in our own voice, then we’re in trouble,” Keekley said, “because nobody is getting a different view. Nobody’s growing.”

Many of Keekley’s students have thanked her for getting them into the journalism field, teaching them how to seek answers and considering what people have to say. Her students say Keekley has fostered an atmosphere where she has addressed their needs by giving them confidence in their stories.

“When I felt like giving up, she always pushed me to keep going,” said former student Amira Warren-Yearby, a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, “and if there was ever a problem, she always made people feel heard.”

Warren-Yearby, who describes Keekley as a mentor, was the recipient of the 2015 ThreeSixty Scholarship, a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to study communication and journalism at St. Thomas. Warren-Yearby’s interest in videography came from her time with the Echo, when she and her crew would create videos on trends in her school.

“I was able to figure out what I like to do and do that, so it’s like [Keekley] helps you craft it and work it out,” Warren-Yearby said. “We would work together to make it happen.”

St. Louis Park senior Genesis Buckhalton, one of Keekley’s current students, is an aspiring journalist. She has known Keekley since her sophomore year and credits participation on the Echo for teaching her the foundations of journalism.

Buckhalton calls Keekley a role model and an inspiration. Others on the Echo agree, Buckhalton said, that Keekley is dedicated to her students and cares deeply about the work they put in.

“She loves teaching,” Buckhalton said. “She tells us all the time that she loves us all, and what we bring to the table.”

Keekley is not only a teacher and advisor, but also is involved with the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission. The com- mission strongly values the First Amendment, a value Keekley shares. Keekley works with student journalists and helps them understand ethics, censorship and the right to express their diverse views through journalism.

She also has promoted a bill, authored by State Rep. Cheryl Youakim and State Sen. Susan Kent earlier this year, that would create a law giving student journalists control over the content they publish, with laid-out guidelines for students, journal- ism teachers and administrators, according to a report and press release.

As a result of Keekley winning the Dow Jones News Fund award, a graduating senior at St. Louis Park will receive a $1,000 scholarship in Keekley’s honor.

Keekley said she doesn’t know why she was chosen as the national journalism teacher of the year, but she believes the award is a tribute to her students and their work.

“They do a lot of collaboration and they work, too, and we talk about everybody being a teacher, it’s not just me,” Keekley said. “We’re learning from each other.”