Going The Distance

Helping students become first-rate journalists—and people

When is writing for the school newspaper a form of intensive pre-professional training? 

When you have a dynamo like Ellen Cowhey as your mentor.

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Cowhey has been a teacher of journalism and world religions at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry since 2004, devoting herself tirelessly to improving the school’s journalism program. During her tenure, she added new journalism classes, expanded the newspaper’s budget by 100 percent (through increased allocations from the school and advertising revenue) and led her students to earn national and local journalism awards. 

Several of her students have gone on to assume top editorial positions on college newspapers and write professionally for national publications.

Cowhey says her goal is to encourage her students to “look into stories deeply, to question systems and to hold authority figures accountable.”Among her fondest memories, she recalls a student who searched the archives to find when The Masters School enrolled its first female African American student, then located and interviewed the woman. “It’s amazing how far these students are willing to go in pursuit of a story,” she says.

Ellen Cowhey, The Masters School

Another time, she says, a student’s investigation into a hacker of Sarah Palin’s emails resulted in a source threatening the school’s cybersecurity. The student, John C. McAuliff, who has gone on to write for USA Today, recalls, “Ms. Cowhey stood by me as I made my decision about what to tell school administrators,  risking her own job to do so.” 

Cowhey’s role as a world-religions teacher has also resulted in one-of-a-kind experiences for her students. Last year, she brought a group of students to China, where they stayed for five days at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. 

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Currently on sabbatical, Cowhey is spending the year at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, studying for a graduate degree in Eastern classics and learning Sanskrit. She will return to Masters in the fall. “My job is exciting,” she says. “I’m so glad when the students ask questions and start to think about the larger world.”


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