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Should Valentine's Day be abolished? Is copying a homework assignment considered cheating?

These are just two of the topics tackled by reporters this year at Laurel High School's newspaper, The Shield.

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Over the past 20 years, students have covered a variety of topics ranging from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to teen violence to a tornado touching down on campus. During that time, the newspaper has raked in awards from the American Scholastic Press Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association and Quill and Scroll, an international honorary society for high school journalists at the University of Iowa.

The newspaper staff has earned about 40 awards in just the past 10 years, according to Robert Giuliani, an English and journalism teacher at Laurel High.

"A newspaper is important for a school to provide a forum for student opinion, and to keep the students involved and aware of school happenings," Giuliani said.

Working on the school newspaper also provides students an opportunity to improve their writing, grammar, time management and other professional skills.

"Being in this class, besides from writing articles, it's like you know a lot more about this school than other students outside of this class," said Ali Tu, a junior who is assistant chief editor of the paper this year.

The Shield prints about 2,000 copies of each of its three or four issues a year, and is distributed at the school and around the community.

For Cora Smith, managing editor of The Shield, it is "really rewarding" to see the finished product and have students complement stories in the paper.

The school is also involved in a nationwide system with other high schools, in which high school papers are exchanged between schools so students can learn from their peers and cultivate new story ideas.

Alexa Thornton, now a freshman at the University of Maryland Baltimore County studying environmental science, served as The Shield editor her junior and senior years — making her the only repeat chief.

Although she is a science major, Thornton is still involved in student newspapers as she works on the UMBC paper.

"I didn't know about the paper until he [Giuliani] told me to join it, and once I did, it was my thing. I really cared about it from there on," she said.

Thornton's sister, Jillian, a junior at Laurel High, is now the chief editor of the paper, succeeding her sister.

Past and present newspaper staff members credit Giuliani for the ongoing success and interest in the paper.

Ali said her grammar has certainly improved while working on the paper. She praised Giuliani's passion for the paper and pitching story ideas to students.

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"He really loves it and it makes me want to do better," she said. "He really motivates us. He's not just like 'Here. Here's your article. Just write it.' He helps us to get all this information and it's up to us whether we are going to push ourselves or not."

Giuliani began advising the school newspaper in 1995 when it was then known as The Tattler. He rebranded the paper from a four-page format to its current 32-page format; a student vote determined the new moniker of The Shield.

Giuliani, now in his 25th year at Laurel, previously taught journalism at Friendly High School in Fort Washington and Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine.

At Laurel, he also teaches the TV production courses.

Over the years, Giuliani said his favorite aspect of teaching journalism students is experiencing their "sense of achievement" whenever a new issue is finished.

Michelle Gutierrez, class of 1995, served as editor of the paper during The Shield's first year with the new name and format. Giuliani refers to her as "the founding mother" of the paper.

"He [Giuliani] was one of those teachers that students felt truly that he cared about us, he cared about the school," Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez majored in communications in college and currently works as a paralegal with a law firm in Prince Frederick.

While she doesn't work in media, she credits working on the student newspaper with helping her to develop her writing skills and build her confidence through leadership roles on the paper.

"I actually can't imagine what Laurel High School would be like without him [Giuliani]. To me, he is Laurel High School," she said.

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