When they're working on a paper for class, most high school students are writing for a select audience of one.
"A student ends up writing for me, their teacher," said Grandview Heights High School English teacher Bethany Black.
"One of the things I've been wanting to do is to give students an authentic audience for their writing," Black said. "In the real world, you have multiple people you are writing to, so you have to cater your writing to that audience.
"I want them to understand what it means to write in the real world and not just in the classroom," she said.
Black came up with an idea of asking her freshmen English students to write an op-ed piece.
"Trying to think of how I could find my students an audience in our community, the idea of asking the Tri-Village News to publish a few of my students' papers popped in my head," Black said.
The students were assigned to write a column about whether it's harder to be a teen today than in past generations.
Students began the assignment by reading articles about the topic in publications such as the New York Times, the Guardian and Time magazine, Black said.
"They also had to do some research on their own about past generations and also about their own generation, not just based on their own experiences," she said.
Each student also was asked to interview someone from a different generation to get their thoughts about how growing up in their era compares to today.
"It's the first time I've ever had students do an interview for an assignment," Black said. "They learned how it is to talk to someone, get them to share their stories and opinions and make eye contact and a connection with that person."
To prepare for their interviews, students needed to research the eras in which their subjects were teenagers and find out about issues affecting their own generations.
"They couldn't just rely on their own personal experiences," Black said.
About 85 students in Black's English 9 and Honors English 9 classes participated in the assignment. Most of her students "lean toward believing it's harder for the current generation to be a teen," Black said.
"The No. 1 reason they cite is technology and the pressure of social media," she said. "Your self-identity, body-image pressures and cyber-bullying are all issues that are magnified by social media."
Many of the students also cited additional educational pressures that face today's teens, Black said.
"We expect more of our students in secondary education than in previous generations," she said. "There is more pressure to get into college and tuition is much higher."
Essays by Mia Marcellana, Signe Slaughter and Ally Smith are published in today's edition. All three are Honors English 9 students.
"I thought it was a fun project," Slaughter said. "I enjoyed learning about different generations. I interviewed my aunt. I learned a lot doing the research and talking to her. It definitely resulted in my coming to a conclusion and forming a strong opinion."
Slaughter's main goal in writing her piece was "to use my own voice and let it shine through my prose," she said.
Smith interviewed her uncle, a member of Generation X.
She said she enjoyed learning about the events that happened during her uncle's teen years.
"I did a lot of research about the Challenger explosion, because that happened when he was in high school," Smith said.
Participating in the project "helped open my eyes about how different being in high school was for people in different generations," she said.
Marcellana interviewed one of her former teachers.
"We just did 'The Laramie Project' (a play about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming) as our fall play, and they were alive when that happened," she said. "I wanted to know what it was like to experience that event and the impact it had on people."
The op-ed project "puts everything in perspective," Marcellana said.
It helped her understand more what her parents mean when they talk about how things are different for her as compared to their high school days, she said.
Slaughter said her interest was sparked by the research she conducted into previous generations.
"It was really interesting to find out the differences between my generation and what life was like in the past," she said. "I want to learn more about it."