Journalism teacher Sandra Hall-Chiles may have just finished her inaugural year at the Episcopal School of Dallas, but she’s no rookie. The veteran teacher has nearly 40 years of experience at various campuses, and a tendency to leave students with inspiration and awards at each one.
“It was a challenge because anytime you change schools, you try to incorporate that culture into your educational philosophy,” she said of her first year at ESD.
After all, she was following in some great footsteps. Barbara Meier, who died of breast cancer, had taught there for roughly 30 years and was beloved by students.
“She was the only adviser the program had ever had. She was an amazing teacher and incredible person,” Chiles said. “When I stepped in, there was a lot of opportunity to change and create a more modern or contemporary practice of journalism.”
Before joining ESD, Chiles taught at Highland Park High School for eight years, Yavneh Academy for seven, and the School for the Talented and Gifted before that. Altogether, she’s been at six campuses.
With that kind of repertoire, it’s no surprise that she’s learned what’s most important when teaching students an evolving skill.
“One of the most important things in Internet culture is that there’s so much information out there. You can Google anything and get a wide range of responses,” she said. “How do we filter and know which ones are responsible and which represent opinion? The need for people trained in ethics is more important than ever.”
That’s something many of her former students value, as well.
“I ended up in the journalism program there because I had been playing football and decided I didn’t want to do that, so I signed up on a whim,” said HPHS graduate Josh Davis, a digital editor at WFAA-TV (Channel 8). “Her influence completely changed my life and my career plan.”
Among other things, Chiles values the teamwork skills students learn in the journalism classroom. Her students also frequently take home awards at statewide UIL tournaments, but Chiles won’t take the credit.
“Awards are wonderful and incredible things but I’m not the one that wins those — my students are,” she said. “When my kids win awards, nobody is more proud than I am.”
Over the years, Chiles has racked up a few awards of her own, including the Gold Key from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 2004 and the Edith Fox King Award in 1994.
But not only does she love teaching students, she loves learning herself, whether from a summer workshop or the teenagers she sees everyday.
“Writing is a skill that’s going to serve you whether you become a journalist or not,” she said. “[My students] opened doors for me. Even at 59, it’s fun to have doors opened.”
This story appears in the August issue of Park Cities People, on stands now.