State Stories

18

Meridian High School's Jordan Brewer is the IHSA's Nominee for Inaugural NFHS Heart of the Arts Award

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In society, and especially in sports, we love the underdog.

On a basketball court, we almost universally bestow that title on the game’s smallest player and root for them to be the hero when the ball unexpectedly lands in their hands in a game’s waning seconds.

In activities however, the underdog can be a bit tougher to identify. There are no last second shots in journalism, drama or music, and a 5-foot-5 frame serves you just as well as a 6-foot-10 one will in scholastic bowl, debate or chess.

You won’t know it when you watch (below) her anchor the Meridian High School D15 News webcast on the school’s NFHS Network page, but Meridian senior Jordan Brewer is that underdog.



When Brewer decided to add Journalism I to her course load upon the start of her junior year, the decision drew a mixture of concern and surprise among teachers and peers.

Journalism teacher Sheila Moore admits, “I was concerned at first. I had Jordan in English class as a sophomore, but it was co-taught with (Special Education teacher) Jody (Clayton). Journalism is not your typical class setup; it is very independent and there is a lot of writing involved. I was afraid Jordan wouldn’t ask for help if she needed it.”

“I was a little surprised to see her in that class,” said Meridian High School senior Tre Hoff, a fellow journalism student who recalls Jordan as the first person to invite him into a social circle when he moved to the school in eighth grade. “She has been a good friend for a long time, so I know her personality and she isn’t the type of person who wants a lot of attention or the spotlight to be on her.”

Clayton expanded on Moore’s sentiments, “Jordan has a specific learning disability in reading, writing and math. I have known her since she was in sixth grade and have a bond with her. It is such a different classroom structure moving from a special education setting to an independent class like journalism. I knew it was a lot of writing, so I was worried initially.”

Brewer saw the class, which entailed writing and editing content for the school’s newspaper The Meridian Daily, as a chance for self-growth.

“I hated writing and was really bad at it,” recalled Brewer. “I needed improvement and the class sounded fun and different. I was nervous at first and started to regret it, but I settled in and things got easier. Everyone in the class was really supportive of each other.”

Still, some elements of the class proved challenging. The thought of having her work dissected out loud during group editing sessions was a source of anxiety, and her apprehension toward reading her work out loud to her classmates earned her a new nickname.

“We all had shirts made for the class with nicknames and inside jokes on the back of them,” said Brewer with a laugh. “Because of my reaction to having to read in class, my shirt says ‘don’t pick me.’”

Brewer tackled a variety of subjects for the newspaper during the course of the year, from recipes to movie reviews to feature stories on the construction of Meridian’s new high school building to an interview with a teacher who had attended President Obama’s inauguration in 2012. She worked diligently, usually hours at a time on each story, and often turned to Clayton to brainstorm ideas or get additional editing help.

With each story, Hoff, Moore and her fellow classmates saw Brewer’s growth, but the development went beyond journalism.

“She has built so much confidence,” said Clayton. “The confidence she has gained from the journalism class has carried over. The way that she carries and expresses herself now is just different than she did before. For example, she is doing really well right now in Algebra II. That is a hard class and I think journalism was the basis for that. She saw she could take a hard class and excel.”

When it came time to determine her classes for her senior year, Brewer was one of three students who elected to move on to Journalism II, something Moore had privately hoped for. The course brought forth new hurdles, as the Journalism II class films a monthly news program that appears on the school’s NFHS Network page. Don’t pick me was no longer an option, as Brewer sat beside Hoff as a co-anchor on the broadcasts, forcing her to memorize lines and read from a teleprompter.

“When Jordan makes up her mind that she is going to do something, she does it,” said Moore. “She works so hard and gets frustrated when others don’t. She has had to put in so many extra hours on writing stories last year and reading scripts this year. Instead of complaining and asking for shortened assignments or accommodations, she puts in the work to make it work.”

Brewer, carrying a senior workload, is demonstrating her passion for the arts even more these days. She has joined the school yearbook (as photographer) and drama program (as lead stylist) while continuing to sing in the school choir.

“She has shown me she is a great leader,” said Moore. “She is branching out and trying new things and has taken on leadership roles in journalism and drama. She keeps growing and thriving. She is seeing her real potential.”

Fittingly, Brewer was in Moore’s class on January 22 when she received an email from Millikin University in neighboring Decatur, her first-choice for college. The message was informing her that she had been accepted and would be the recipient of an academic scholarship totaling nearly $10 thousand. The news nearly moved Moore to tears, and Clayton, who sees Brewer significantly less this year, was touched that she felt compelled to stop by her office immediately after Moore’s class to tell her the good news.

Brewer reflected on the reasons she has grown close with her two “favorite” teachers. “Mrs. Moore is a very positive person. She is always happy and is not afraid to tell you what she is thinking, I love that about her. Mrs. Clayton is an awesome person who has always helped me no matter what; she is one of the sweetest and funniest people I have ever met.”

The impact the pair has made on Brewer will extend beyond journalism, as she plans to major in Early Childhood Education at Millikin and wants to be a first-grade teacher.

“Mrs. Clayton and Mrs. Moore have made me want to become a teacher,” said Brewer. “They are upbeat and do as much as they can for their students. They are awesome!”

Jordan Brewer is no longer the underdog, but despite that, we should all still be rooting for her.