Newspaper Program: How it came to be

There are many ways to enhance education outside the classroom.  Certainly sports are a great way to teach kids about strategy, teamwork, perseverance, and many other positive attributes.  But we can also provide educational support through after school activities, like those offered at the JH & HS level, even at the elementary schools.

The 6th grade newspaper program is a great example of a self-funded, curriculum-based after school program that helps students hone their writing skills.  This started as a 2-month experiment – I never would have expected it to turn into a full-fledged program!  Here is the story of that program; perhaps what we learned can serve as a model for others who have an idea for an extracurricular program they’d like to get started.

In March, 2008, my daughter heard about a newspaper that was produced at another school.  She wanted to start one at Seipelt, so I told her I would l lead an extracurricular program for the rest of the year if Mrs. Borger agreed.  She did, and Brenda Ely, a certified teacher & I, a professional writer, volunteered as parent advisors.  The Academic Boosters agreed to sponsor us since this was a short-term project.  We opened up the program to the entire 5th grade and had 9 students participate.

This first group produced two “issues,” and were so excited they wanted to continue in 6th grade.  We had found the 5th graders were just on the edge of being old enough to participate in this type of program, and decided 6th grade was probably the right age for a year-long program.  Knowing there was a huge difference between volunteering for a few weeks and conducting a formal, continuing program for the entire school year, we had to develop the program into more of a class-based offering where Brenda & I could be compensated as class leaders, similar to the Spanish classes offered at the elementaries.

We thus had to find a way to make the program self-supporting.  We applied for grants from a number of organizations and looked for donations from local businesses, which would then receive “ads” in the paper.  Students would also pay a small fee to participate ($5/class this year), as is typical with extracurriculars.  We discussed offering the program to other schools, but felt that with only a few weeks’ experience under our belt, it was better to test the program in one school first.  Our sponsor changed from the Academic Boosters to the Seipelt PTA, since we were open to all 6th graders, not just those identified as gifted, and we were now a “formal” program.  The PTA earned 10% of all we brought in as administrator of the program.  This was not a lot, but any little bit helps.

Unfortunately, because we were not in all schools, we did not qualify for some grants.  Others did not come through since the economy was already beginning to tighten.  We were able to raise some support from local businesses, but it was far from enough.  We said we would do the program for a year even if we were not able to raise enough to get paid, but we had to have money for printing, which was very expensive.  We started the program in September, 2008, but we were questioning whether we would be able to continue the next semester – the funds we had only covered printing two issues, much less compensating us at all for our time.

At the last minute, International Paper came through with the offer to print the papers for us at no charge!  This was a lifesaver – we were able to keep the program going after all.

The year turned out great – we saw a huge improvement in the kids’ writing, as well as in their responsibility levels.  Because of this, we were able to produce 5 instead of the expected 4 issues.  The newspaper staff did some really fun things, like interviewing a variety of people, creating their own comics and advice column, even inventing their own word (which several are still working on, trying to get it in use so it may someday be included in the dictionary!)

This year, we are continuing the program for Seipelt’s 6th graders and we have expanded the program to Mulberry.  Hopefully other schools will add the program in the future as well – it’s a great way to offer another extracurricular option to 6th graders who enjoy writing!

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