Budding journalists start their own paper at school

From the left, Sage Farinacci, 9, page editor, Zoe Clingman, 9, art/page editor, Emma Buniger, 10, art/page editor, Nate Bailey, 11, page editor, Kevin Chaffee, 11, photo editor, Madison Cook, 10, page editor, student staff for the New Emerson Post school newspaper.

Within these pages, readers can learn about why New Emerson STEAM Elementary School will have Mondays off instead of Fridays next year, what plans are in the works for the space vacated by the math and science center that used to be next door, and what fifth-grade teacher Ms. Aubrey will be doing in her new position, among other newsworthy tidbits.

This isn't a parent newsletter. The principal didn't write it. The bylines on these stories are from the students themselves — and they're 9, 10 and 11 years old.

The New Emerson Post published its inaugural issue this month, and it appears to be one of the only student newspapers produced at the elementary school level in the U.S.

During a time when student-run newspapers at the high school and college levels are making headlines for being in danger of shutting down, these elementary students launched their own publication. And while the popular narrative perpetuated by some is that newspapers are dying, the students producing the New Emerson Post believe there is a future for newspapers and a value to gathering and publishing local information.

It all started a year ago, when Sage Farinacci, who became one of the newspaper's page editors, made an appointment to talk with Principal Terry Schmalz.

"She said, 'I would like to share an idea that I have,' " Schmalz said.

Farinacci gave a presentation to Schmalz detailing her plans for a student newspaper, including story ideas.

She was a second-grader at the time.

Schmalz agreed it was a great idea, and saw her student had a passion for it and wanted to help her bring it to fruition.

Farinacci returned to school in the fall and came back to Schmalz, reminding her it was time to move forward with the plan. By January, they had formed a newspaper club after school, advised by paralibrarian Miranda Bailey, who has a background in journalism and had advised the student newspaper at Pampa High School in Texas for a decade. Bailey, who caught the journalism bug herself when she started writing an advice column for a student publication in seventh grade, volunteered to help the club launch their newspaper and coach the four fifth-graders, two fourth-graders and Farinacci, a third-grader.

"Miss Miranda was in charge, but we still got to decide what we wanted to do, the stories and how we wanted to do it," said fourth-grader Emma Buniger, 10.

The club met for an hour each week, starting with the very basics. Learning to produce a newspaper entailed everything from identifying their own story ideas to conducting interviews, writing drafts of stories, deciding where to place the stories in the layout and writing headlines and illustrating those stories, and carefully combing the finished product for any typos or mistakes and learning that accuracy counts.

These tasks required careful instruction from Bailey, who taught them everything from the First Amendment to how to discern whether a story idea is newsworthy, interview techniques and how to write a lead.

Along the way, students learned other lessons, such as the importance of giving everyone a chance to voice their opinions and viewpoints.

"Some people are quiet people," said fourth-grader Zoe Clingman, 9, an art and page editor. "People like that don't really get to have a voice sometimes so we talked to them."

They also learned it's hard to take candid photos of kindergarteners who keep posing for the camera, and that people get disappointed when they're interviewed for stories but they don't end up making it into the newspaper, two things that are true in the professional journalism world, too.

Students also learned the importance of flexibility — they reassessed the placement of their top story only three days before going to press. They debated what was most timely and important, just like editors in professional newsrooms do.

They ended up bumping the story about students winning the school district's service learning award downpage, instead electing to place the news story about the new libratory and makerspace above the fold. The new space, vacated by the math and science center, is a place where students will be able to create and build.

"It was the biggest thing going on at our school," Farinacci said.

"And it still is," Clingman said.

Farinacci, 9, said she was pleased with their first newspaper, and has plans for more stories already for next year's editions. She said the newspaper satisfied her initial goal — to inform.

"If you don't know what's going on, you can read it and know what's going on," she said.

The newspaper also includes an opinion section, with editorials on whether kids should have homework every day and the need for more space for the new libratory area. The students also produced features on how their fifth-graders mentor kindergarteners, a video game review and a story on the Girls on the Run program.

The staff said they felt it was important for students to create their own publication, with help from adults.

"Instead of the adults having the voice, it was the kids," said Nate Bailey, 11, a fifth-grade page editor.

The New Emerson Post also includes a special section for STEAM news, as their curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, something the students came up with themselves.

Schmalz said she was "extremely impressed" with the first edition of the newspaper.

"The process was very rigorous and I didn't expect a real newspaper like that," she said, noting that she was anticipating a photocopied publication, produced on the office copier, folded and stapled in the middle.

After the newspaper was distributed to students and parents, Schmalz marveled at the engagement readers had with the first edition.

"Every person just had their head in the newspaper," she said. "Even the parents."

"I'm just really proud of the way that they worked together as a team and that they've taken total ownership of it," she said. "And they're able to express themselves and involve the entire school community in some way."

Page editor Madison Cook, 10, said although she won't be back to help with the New Emerson Post next year because she'll be moving on to sixth grade, she'd like to launch another student newspaper at Redlands Middle School.

Other students paid tribute to the newspaper by creating their own versions, during the last week of school.

It seems the New Emerson Post is here to stay, though it will depend on donations from the community, parents and readers to fund its printing.

Schmalz said the libratory and makerspace will include a designated area for student newspaper production.

"It will be a permanent part of our culture," she said. "It's blended learning at its best."

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