École Brentwood Elementary School has spent the past school year creating and working on a newspaper project for their Grade 6 language arts class.
The Brentwood Star News is a four-page monthly newspaper created, produced and published by the three Brentwood Grade 6 classes.
Grade 6 teachers Amy White, Chantelle Keim and Joanne Fell have been playing with the idea of a newspaper project for a few years. It wasn’t until a student said they would like to start a newspaper or a newsletter at the beginning of the school year that the project really took off.
Students are involved in different groups every month, including: layout, which handles the design of the paper; classifieds, which creates the back page content complete with an original comic strip and puzzles; editorial, which edits student articles and chooses which articles will be published; advertising, which involves approaching local businesses asking for support via placement of ads; and photography, involving students who take photos at events and arranging for them to be published.
“The sustainability of this project is great. Every month [the students] change roles which helps keep the student engagement up,” said White. “[And] it fits really well with the curriculum.”
Each month, every Grade 6 student is responsible for writing one article. Students can conduct interviews together and write on the same topics, but they must write their articles separately. At the end of the month, the editors choose which articles to publish.
“I think it helps us learn writing and to get bigger, stronger and more detailed stories. We can figure out what a newspaper is like,” said student and current Brentwood Star News editor, Tayla McFadyen.
The program has been supported by the Golden Hills School Division (GHSD) and professional development support has also been provided. The teachers have been creating a guide of what works and what doesn’t work with the newspaper program so other GHSD schools can adapt the newspaper project if they so choose.
Direct outcomes to the language arts curriculum include learning newspaper conventions, grammar and style, what the purpose is of different stories, perspective and bias in stories, collaboration, using technology, and accountability, such as real-life consequences for not finishing something such as their articles.
“I feel so much that sometimes the curriculum is not linked to what they see out in the real world. Suddenly we are putting a genuine task in that allows them to see their work out in the real world. They are starting to feel that they are real writers and there is an audience who is interested in what is going on in their world. It gives them engagement that we can’t try for as a teacher, naturally it just happens,” said White.
As a result of the program, the Grade 6 students have developed an interest in Strathmore’s community newspapers, and in what is happening in the world outside of school and their home life.
“It’s been growing fast which is not what we were expecting right away,” said White. “The kids have been really good at understanding they are a pilot group and that we as teachers are not the experts because this is a new thing we are doing, so we are listening to their feedback. We are learning along with them.”
École Brentwood Elementary applied for a grant from the Educational Partnership Foundation so they can offset the costs of creating and running the newspaper program. They received $500 to use towards the sustainability of the project, such as buying some camera equipment, to take students on field trips to visit local newspaper experts, and to invite workshop facilitators to further teach the students.
White noted that the students’ interview questions and interview skills have evolved, as has their ability to talk to potential advertisers on the phone, amongst other things.
“Students are asking fellow students for help instead of the teacher because they are seeing that each other has value. They are starting to use each other and it’s a really level playing field because no one has any experience with newspapers before this,” said White. “Suddenly they are the experts at different tasks.”
Print copies of the paper are handed out to students who have been published as well as to advertisers and to the GHSD office. Electronic copies of the paper get emailed to parents on the e-mail subscription list, and a digital copy is also uploaded to the École Brentwood Elementary Facebook page.