On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, Aaron Manfull took a group of journalism students to Lambert-St.Louis International Airport to cover the local aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Manfull was in his first month as journalism teacher at FHN and he wanted his students to have the opportunity to cover the event.
"I try to get students out of the classroom," Manfull said. "We're always covering real things, whether we're downtown covering the final days of the old Busch Stadium or we're at the airport on 9-11."
Manfull grew up in southeastern Iowa, where his mother taught journalism and English for 30 years. He had class with his mother three times each day and was on the newspaper and yearbook staff, which she also advised. Growing up with a journalism teacher for a mom, Manfull knew what he was getting into when he began his own career. It's a job he still likes to wake up and do every day.
At Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, Manfull had at first planned to become an English teacher. That changed his sophomore year.
"I had a teacher for a mythology class who kept saying, 'Your stuff would be fine for USA Today, but not for my class.'"
Manfull switched his major to communications and journalism, became editor-in-chief of the school paper and started a magazine with some buddies. He completed a local journalism internship while enrolled in a combined bachelor's and master's program and working toward teacher certification. Manfull figured he'd become a journalist when he finished the degree. But when he began student teaching, he changed his mind.
"I realized teaching is what I want to do," he said. "Teaching and journalism are two of my favorite things, and I get to do both."
Into the Classroom
Manfull taught at Newton High School in Newton, IA, for three years before coming to St. Charles in 2001. Now in his tenth year at Francis Howell North, Manfull is a National Board Certified Teacher with an impressive list of awards and recognitions. This fall, the National Scholastic Press Association presented him with a Pioneer Award. The Poynter Institute named him one of "35 Influential People in Social Media."
But Manfull insists his students deserve the praise.
"The kids work really hard, and they do really well," he said. "Over the past 10 years, two of the Missouri High School Journalists of the Year have come through Francis Howell North. Two other students received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award."
Plaques and certificates crowd the back wall of the classroom — first place awards that Francis Howell North's newspaper, yearbook and student website staffs have won at the city, state and national levels. Trophies crowd the bookshelf. Manfull's "Wall of Fame" showcases award-winning student work.
"If it won anything short of first place, it doesn't make it up there," said Manfull. "The wall is full enough."
Manfull encourages his students take charge. He runs the show in his introductory classes, but in his more advanced publication classes, student editors take the reins.
"I really try to make them do the thinking," he said. "They're going to make mistakes, but I think those are the best lessons. Sometimes students do things I wouldn't, and the result turns out better than I thought. Other times we critique something when it's done and talk about what was good about it and what they might do differently next time. I really turn the ownership over to them."
With a new edition of the school paper published every three to four weeks, a 320-page yearbook to develop and video broadcast students to advise, Manfull has very little downtime. His students also make daily updates to their own school website, Fhntoday.com.
"I'm really happy at North," Manfull said. "I want to keep growing the journalism program here."