Kids pronounce student-run newspaper a success
Thanks to changes made to the middle school program of studies, students in seventh and eighth grades are directing their own monthly publication for the Lawn Avenue School. The school newspaper class, launched this year as a project-based learning curriculum, is spinning stories for its readership and stirring a buzz about the school.
The young journalists are not afraid to face real issues in "The Rock." Reports like a fellow student's struggle with cancer and the health-threatening controversy over energy drinks cover the front page. News departments from world headlines to food, fashion and entertainment are presented in professional news media style. The latest monthly issue expanded to more than 10 pages, with a lot to report.
Georgia Wright, Emily Levy and Sarah Smith, all eighth grade students, are co-editors of the pilot program this year, and reflect on their professional growth since the beginning of the school year. They agree their learning curves have been strong. "We keep busy writing articles," Wright says, flipping through a February issue of "The Rock." "We kids have short attention spans, so short articles are good."
Levy admits that the writers are expected to be self-motivated enough to come up with their own stories. Smith walks around school looking for things to write about. "That's how I found the rock wall and the new mobile computer unit," she says.
The enrichment class has realized the pressure of deadlines and the importance of a regular working environment. The editors complain that the large staff is not as productive as they would like it to be, having to deal with a daily shortage of computers and an already slow network. "It would be cool if we had our own place to go, like our own computer room," Wright says.
The class started the year off with access to the computer room, but because of some misbehavior by a few students, the group lost privileges to the workroom. "We are paying for it even though we have a whole new group of kids," they agree. The editors start to smile, realizing they could turn their complaints into news reports.
Kristin DeSantis and Tom Carney, advisors for the newspaper staff, each have one period with the class every schedule rotation. The class rotates to six teachers, with four others taking a turn to supervise, according to Jim Kaczynski, one of the supporting supervisors.
In the last few years, the Rhode Island Department of Education tightened up dedicated learning time in schools and outlawed study halls. As steps are taken toward more student-centered learning approaches in the program of studies, the school improvement team organized extra activities where students would be assigned. Carney notes that the students do not choose which year-long project they would like to join, but if problems arise and a student desires to transfer, "we are flexible."
Carney also said that students are learning not just about a different style of writing, but how to work together as a group. "The three editors are pretty strong writers, but they have strengthened their own skills by seeing other students' work. The writers are growing too. It's more accepting to get criticism from a peer."
The editors do not have too much trouble motivating their staff because the students choose the topics they are passionate about. "A lot of people say it's hard work," Levy reflects. "But we love this class."