When describing how the field of journalism would maintain its relevance through the digital age, Moffat County High School teacher Katy Gray turned to her other passion, archaeology, for an analogy.
“People have been telling stories around the fire for thousands of years,” Gray said. “Like the Fremont People, they would pass stories on through word of mouth. Human nature loves a good story.”
The ancient natives passed on stories through generations and scrawled them on rock walls, but Gray’s journalism students put out a newspaper — The Post Script — once a month with the guidance of their teacher and advisor to tell the stories of their fellow students and community members.
In two months, Gray will leave her classroom for the last time as she retires after 27 years of teaching in Moffat County.
But, before she teaches her final class, the Colorado High School Press Association will honor her for her dedication to teaching journalism.
At a May 8 scholarship gala, Gray will receive the association’s Medal of Merit for her long career in journalism education, publication advising, teacher mentoring and advocacy.
“It’s definitely warm and fuzzy,” Gray said about receiving the award. “Because the award is not just for teachers, but just for people who have spent a good part of their career supporting journalism.”
Gray studied political science and journalism at Texas Tech University, followed by a master’s program in reading instruction at the University of Colorado at Denver.
She worked as a photographer, page designer and freelance writer for various publications but ultimately found that teaching high school was her calling.
“I love the age group,” she said. “They’re at that age where they’re into creative thinking. You’re not dictating information; you’re facilitating thought.”
She said a lot of her students come into journalism class the first day with certain fixed ideas of how to write a paper or an essay, and it’s up to her to help them break the mold.
“(Journalism) is a different kind of writing that’s absolutely necessary,” she said. “It’s learning the difference between fact and opinion and learning to give people credit for what they say. They’re writing about what other people do and say. This is not just for students who go into newspapers.”
But, she wasn’t the only one doing the teaching for those 27 years.
Her high school students helped bring her into the digital age when Gray was educated in the days of darkrooms.
“They taught me digital,” she said. “They taught me (Adobe) InDesign. They’d go pick it up in some other class, and they’d bring it back to me. When I started, I remember going over to the press and hot waxing our headlines on.”
Still, she said news writing will survive in one form or another as content shifts online and journalism becomes overwhelmingly digital and instantaneous.
In an effort to continue to support journalism education, Gray said she will continue her role as a teaching mentor for the Journalism Education Association, including mentoring Moffat County’s next journalism teacher.
In retirement, she hopes to write at least one book, travel and focus on her role as secretary of The Vermillion Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society.
Gray said she doesn’t think the journalism program is in jeopardy with upcoming budget cuts, but if something does happen, she will be the first to step in to defend and fight to keep journalism education alive in Moffat County and the rest of the Western Slope.
“If they don’t keep the newspaper going, I’ll be back in this building,” she said. “People think newspapers are dying, but they’re not. It’s going to evolve.”