The days of quills and scrolls are long gone, but at East High School, the Quill and Scroll are in their primes, thanks largely to Natalie Niemeyer.
She teaches journalism at East in an era when that profession is under siege, but has never been more vital. She does it so well that she was recently named a Master Journalism Educator by the Journalism Education Association, the same organization that tabbed her a Rising Star in 2014.
She had to complete a project, accumulate enough experience and pass an exam to earn her MJE credential. No wonder there are only 179 nationwide.
Niemeyer has taught at East since she graduated from the University of Iowa in 2011. She first aspired to a career as a journalist, but an internship in public relations turned her off that path and onto the one it now seems like she was destined to take.
“I decided that rather than write stuff people might never read I would like to be a teacher,” she said. Good decision.
It’s crunch time for the staff of East’s yearbook, The Quill, and the buzz in Niemeyer’s newsroom reflected that when we were there on Tuesday.
“Welcome to deadline week,” she announced as the staff arrived. “All hands on deck!” The same words were scrawled on the whiteboard. Three staffers grabbed their “press passes” from Niemeyer’s desk and fanned out into the building to get head shots of students who’ve not yet found their ways into the publication.
Ambient music was occasionally heard above the din of deadline pressure.
Last year’s edition was highlighted in Portfolio, The Best of Herff Jones, one of only three chosen from within the state of Iowa by the leading school yearbook publisher.
So, both the publisher and her publications are piling up the kudos. Coincidence? Probably not.
When Niemeyer arrived, there were 11 students on the yearbook staff. This year that number is up to 33. There is pride, but no money, in the product.
“We sold 430 copies of The Quill last year,” Niemeyer said, “a record.” Impressive stuff at a time when circulation numbers for print media are generally in decline. If you’re interested in grabbing a copy of a limited edition, award-winning publication, give the school a call. They sell for $60 and cost “about $59.50 per copy” to publish.
Tucked away in a far corner of the room is a copy of the Scroll’s first edition, circa 1931, framed and yellowed. SCHOOL NEWSPAPER NEW PROJECT IN EAST HIGH blazed a headline on the front page. Scattered elsewhere around the room are copies of the latest edition – Issue 3; Volume 87.
Besides her teaching duties, Niemeyer coaches 8th grade softball and advises the Scarlet Ambassadors, a student leadership group at East. Her father, Larry Niemeyer, is Iowa’s all-time winningest high school softball coach, mostly at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Natalie’s alma mater.
Senior Toni McPhee is the Editor in Chief of the Scroll and Senior Editor for The Quill. She met Niemeyer while playing softball in middle school. That led to her enrollment in the intro journalism class when she got to high school, the prerequisite to roles on the Scroll and Quill staffs. And those experiences are leading McPhee to a career.
“Next year I’m going to Grand View (University). I plan to become an English and journalism teacher,” she said in between consults with her fellow editors. “Miss Niemeyer is always there for me and I feel like she knows I’ve got her back, too.”
Niemeyer officially accepts her latest award on April 14 in San Francisco at the JEA/NSPA convention. She collects her rewards in Room 3060N at East.