Gazing at the flurry of high schoolers frantic to meet the imminent print deadlines in the Publications Lab, Tracy Sena removed her mask to take a sip of coffee, and smiled. It was the first deadline week in 15 months during which she could collaborate in the same room as her staff.
It would also be her last.
The Scholastic Journalism & Media Director recently announced her upcoming retirement at the end of the academic year — completing her 39th year as an educator and 25th year as the journalism adviser at Convent & Stuart Hall.
“Students have always wanted to tell stories and they truly want their voices heard,” Sena said. “The biggest change has been taking it up a level. The first Broadview editions were good, but when we started going to conventions, our students saw that the paper really wasn’t that great, but they were just as smart as the staffs with top publications.”
Sena began her journalism career as the editor-in-chief of her elementary school paper in fifth grade. She continued on to become the first underclassman on her high school newspaper staff, sparking her future passion for scholastic journalism.
“By the time you are in high school, students already have strong ideals and that’s really the last time a teacher can help shape that,” Sena said. “We make better citizens through student journalism, and so having a robust program in high school is important.”
Joining the Convent & Stuart Hall faculty in 1996, Sena ran the Convent High School computer lab and established The Broadview along with two other faculty members.
“Ms. Sena and I are ‘starting at Convent twins,’ and when she and I first joined the school years ago, there was no newspaper,” Head of School Rachel Simpson said. “But she launched this program and has really turned it into something that is nationally recognized and world class.”
Sena expanded the program by coding a website from scratch to publish stories in the late ’90s, making The Broadview one of the first high school newspapers to go digital. She turned to experienced advisers around the country at national journalism conferences for more resources.
“We started going to conventions in April of 1997 and our eyes were opened for what high school journalism could be because we were stuck in our own little bubble,” Sena said.
In an effort to grow the paper’s coverage and access, Sena took students across the country to be at the forefront of covering major political events, presidential and congressional inaugurations.
“Ms. Sena took a group of us to Nancy Pelosi’s inauguration as the first female Speaker of the House,” Ina Herlihy (’10) said. “Back in San Francisco, I went to all the stump speeches and interviewed the presidential candidates my freshman year through the beginning of my junior year.”
With increased visibility as the program got underway, Sena entered her student’s work in various competitions. Under Sena’s mentorship, Herlihy became the 2010 Journalism Education Association High School Journalist of the Year in her senior year — one of Sena’s most emblematic career milestones.
“Ina’s High School Journalist award symbolizes the aspiration I have for all my students — that you find a passion and you go with it,” Sena said. “The awards are a pat on the back for a job well done, but what really matters is that students did work that got people thinking on another level.”
Among The Broadview’s achievements under Sena are multiple Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crowns and National Scholastic Press Association Pacemakers, 20 NSPA Best in Show awards and seven First Amendment Press Freedom awards.
“There was a really tough situation around a specific article I wrote,” former editor-in-chief Zoe Newcomb Donahoe (’11) said “I was only 16 when that happened, but Ms. Sena was such a rock in that process. She instilled in me and my peers that sense of confidence that our voice as young women mattered and that it was important.”
As the pioneer for student press freedom at Convent & Stuart Hall, Sena guided The Broadview from a paper that was under prior review by the school’s administration into an uncensored student-run publication that celebrates the independent female voice.
“I see the journalism program as an environment where student voices can be developed and honed,” Simpson said. “I particularly appreciate the accountability and the ethics of press freedom that she has built into the program. It is about freedom of expression, confidence in that expression and a deep sense of personal responsibility.
With The Broadview voice firmly established, Sena took on the advising role for Stuart Hall High School’s newspaper, “The Roundtable,” in 2016. With complex current events covered in recent years, she said she enjoyed watching each staff form an original stance on issues.
“These two publications cover issues from the viewpoints of their individual communities, and they write them in such a way that their readers pay attention, which is the goal of single-sex education,” Sena said. “Having two newspapers is one more vehicle that we give to students to not just add their voices, but amplify their voices.”
Sena taught staff members about the importance of articulating their voices. Amanda Coffee (’04) recounted that the skills she acquired in her four years in the journalism program translated into future career successes.
“Ms. Sena really taught us interpersonal skills that were transferable, and that we could apply in college and in our professional life,” Coffee said. “Honestly, skills that you learn being a reporter at The Broadview are skills for which whatever the job is going to be in 2025 will be applicable.”
Tough love, among other admirable traits, is part of Sena’s lasting impact on former students, according to Claire Fahy (’14), whose journalism career continued post-graduation at “60 Minutes” and “The New York Times.”
“When there is no one setting the rules for student journalism in high school, you always had to hold yourself to Ms. Sena’s standard because those deadlines were never negotiable – you had to show up and do it,” Fahy said. “You had to know what you were striving for and you had to hit the mark — even if no one noticed if you didn’t.”
While Sena will retire at the end of this academic year, she says she hopes the two newspapers expand their skill sets and there will be greater faculty involvement, with faculty sharing their expertise in different fields.
“I would like to see both the staffs continue to thrive, to think critically, to think of ways of telling stories to people who don’t want to read,” Sena said. “Don’t be afraid of telling other people why you care, and find a factual way in which you can show them why they should care.”
Reflecting on her career of instilling journalistic values into students, Sena reemphasized freedom of the press as a founding principle.
“Run with this girls; go for it,” Sena advises past, present and future students. “Your voice matters. You matter. Democracy matters. This country matters.”