After three years of storytelling, editor files one last Hi-line story for his teacher

It is 4:30 a.m. and as many would expect, the high school is in silence. In three hours the parking lots will be filled and the silence will disappear. But at this moment, the hallways are as dark as the night sky out the window and all of the 1,200 students that will soon invade the emptiness of 1015 Division St., are fast asleep. The lone breath in the building resides in room 208 and belongs to journalism teacher Brian Winkel who sits in his office, like he does every morning before the big hand on the clock even strikes 5.

Anything from journalism books and classic literature to magazines on fishing and nature fill the bookshelf in his office. NPR echoes throughout the small room and The New York TImes and Des Moines Register are sprawled out on his desk, both of which get read from front to back each morning in order to find his muse, something he actively pleads for his students to do.

By the time most teachers wake up, Winkel has already ridden his bike to school under the moonlight (the same bike he has had since he was 13 that he bought with his detasseling money), read a magnitude of stories and potentially cried tears of happiness and sadness, done grading, and most importantly, has schemed up a way to inspire his students in some way that day, all while drinking a cup of hot tea.

Hundreds of students have come through the journalism room over the 14 years Winkel has been at CFHS. Some students come and go as passing faces but other students leave a mark on the journalism program, as well as on Winkel himself, that will forever be etched in history and inspire the next generation. What Winkel might not realize, however, is the kind of mark he forever etched in his students that has inspired them wherever they go.

It would be difficult to find a more successful CFHS alum than 2005 Tiger Hi-Line editor-in-chief Cyrus Moussavi. Out of high school, Moussavi received a $50,000 scholarship from the Freedom Forum and USA Today for his risk-taking high school journalism work under the guidance of Winkel. Moussavi attended Columbia University in New York and has since started a documentary series called Raw Music International focusing on underground music around the world that has taken him to Kenya, Northern Iraq (Kurdistan), Ukraine, Burma and Trinidad. He has had his work featured on the websites of the Washington Post, NBC News, Rolling Stone as well as MTV. The impact Moussavi has had on the world has been substantial, but the impact Winkel made on Moussavi certainly isn’t far behind. “He’s an inspiration and a role model, and I can’t imagine what high school would have been like without him,” Moussavi said. “He empowered us. He gave us a platform and the tools to use it.”

That platform is the school newspaper, the Tiger Hi-Line. Awards for the Hi-Line fill the back wall of room 208, and in the left corner of the room, the award for Iowa High School Press Association photographer of the year can be found with 2009 graduate Honor Heindl’s name on it. Heindl is another case of literally and figuratively leaving her mark on the program. Her awards and photography hang from the wall, but her stories and skill are continuously brought up in staff meetings as examples on how to be great. Heindl believes Winkel is a huge part as to why she has been so successful, “Mr. Winkel puts so much heart into what he teaches,” Heindl said. “As wise and knowledgeable as he is, he remains profoundly humble. When someone is so enthusiastic about what they’re sharing with you, it’s impossible to not jump on board as well. The passion is contagious.”

Heindl is currently working on a masters of social work degree, and her photography has taken her to India and Thailand to volunteer for nonprofit organizations. “Mr. Winkel is a huge reason I am where and who I am today,” she said. “It probably sounds cheesy, but having a teacher genuinely believe in you and advocate for you is one of the greatest gifts any young person could receive. I felt like I sort of found my niche or sense of purpose through his class.”

The ability Winkel has had to impact lives as a teacher wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a split second decision he made on the last day of his college career at South Dakota State. He was sitting in a room filling out paperwork when someone from Mitchell, S.D., came into the room in desperate need of a journalism teacher for their high school. His plan was to get his doctorate in English, and be a professor at the University of Iowa, but his friends immediately told him that this would be perfect for him. He went in for the interview as “practice” and accepted the offer on the spot. “I was driving home, and I grabbed the steering wheel so tight that my knuckles turned white, and I said ‘What the hell did I just do,’” Winkel said. “But I’m glad I did it. It changed my life.”

Winkel moved many times during his childhood. He was born in Iowa before moving to Minnesota then to Katy, Texas, where he turned down a date in seventh grade with actress Renee Zellweger. He then moved back to Iowa and lived in Sibley where he was the student council president for all four years of high school with, believe it or not, Justin Bieber like hair.

The moves continued once he got into his professional career when he took on an associate principal position at Waukon High School for Allamakee Schools in northeast Iowa. He made more money, but he also felt like he wasn’t earning it because of the light workload. He also wasn’t able to inspire students in the same way and was taken away from his beloved journalism. “I felt guilty walking into work every day,” Winkel said.

So when a job opened up for a journalism teacher in Cedar Falls, he took the road trip and met with English teacher Judy Timmons and retiring journalism teacher Judy Funk. When they asked him why he would give up the money and the position to be a journalism teacher, his response was simple yet sincere and may have gotten him the job. “Teaching is my passion,” he told them.

It’s been 14 years since Winkel accepted the job as the journalism teacher at Cedar Falls. There are a solid amount of awards that hang in his classroom, but there haven’t been any additions for a few years. The Hi-Line used to be in The Courier before the recession hit in 2009, and the CFHS school newspaper has been rebounding ever since. The rise back to the top has been a struggle for the Hi-Line, and a new problem arose at the end of the first semester this year. There were only six students enrolled heading into the second semester, and if there was not an increase in enrollment for next year, the possibility of the class coming to an end became a very real one.

The worry set in for a split second before recruiting pitches started and the quality of the newspaper spoke for itself.

There were six kids as the first semester ended and 13 when the second semester began. Seven students gave up their first hour release to become a part of the family led by Winkel. and Moussavi can see why. “He was a teacher, but he was also a leader. By his own example he taught us integrity and honesty.”

After the potential elimination of journalism from the offered curriculum, 51 students signed up to take journalism next year, which produces the only weekly school newspaper in the state. The course will extend over three periods, something that has never been done at CFHS, and if you include Winkel’s other journalism classes, broadcast journalism and yearbook, over 100 students signed up to take some sort of journalism course for the 2015-2016 school year.

Two of Winkel’s journalism students received awards from the Iowa High School Press Association as the single best in the entire state. Jackson Skiles was named the Videographer of the Year and Austin Anderson was named the Writer of the Year. The IHSPA deemed 40 of Winkel’s students’ stories, videos or photos as one of the five best in their respective field in the state of Iowa. That list includes the best column, feature photo, feature story, illustration, news story, news photo, sports story, photo story, staff editorial and video story.

Pretty good for a program that is “dying.”

As students and teachers slowly and reluctantly get out of their beds and begin to wake up, Winkel locks his fingers together behind his head and kicks his feet up on his desk. The radio drowns out the slight noise of his fridge filled with food adequate for his vegan diet. With the stresses on his proverbial plate seemingly weathered and a promising future ahead for himself and every student lucky enough to cross his path, Winkel did something he hadn’t done all year, albeit for only a few minutes. With everyone else waking up and the hot tea resting on his desk, he closed his eyes and took a nap.



Hey Mr. Winkel, 

We often talk about how writing a story can make an impact on somebody’s life and how it’s like you’re giving them a gift. Well, you have certainly made an impact on my life, and this was the best way I could try to repay you, by giving you the gift of a story. I think I was supposed to write something else, but this was the best farewell to the Hi-Line I could think of. I get that you might not want to put a story about yourself in the paper, but you also always say that to be truly creative, a story  needs an audience to fully make a difference. So in order for this story to be the best it can be, I think it should be in the Hi-Line so everyone can see the difference you make in your students’ lives. Thanks for everything. See ya in a couple hours. —Austin

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