Minutes into celebrating the premiere edition of Holcomb Elementary School’s first student-produced paper, “Longhorn Life,” fourth-graders were already brainstorming on how future volumes could be different and better.
Sitting in clumps with parents, teachers and each other, all of HES’s nearly 70 fourth-graders read, with papers, pens and pencils in hand, jotting down their favorite stories, ideas for future sections and upcoming events the students could cover.
The reading session, which will recur monthly throughout the school year, was the culmination of the whirlwind three-week creation of the newspaper, a process that HES fourth-grade teacher Melanie Gifford directed after her students came to her with an idea.
“I think it's awesome because it really was generated by the students,” said HES assistant principal Randi Thyne. “Mrs. Gifford did a great job getting their input and seeing what they wanted it to be. She guided and facilitated it, but it really came from them.”
In the first week of school, when writing pretend newspaper articles for class, Gifford said some students asked if their work would be published. It would not, she told them, but they’d caught the bug. Several students started talking about starting a newspaper, she said, and it wasn’t long before they came to her with the idea.
One of those students, Jack Myers, said he had heard Holcomb High School had a paper and decided his peers should make one as well. A newspaper could “get news around the school for people that didn’t go to those events or maybe to learn more about the teachers,” he said.
Gifford and administrators at the school applied and received a $300 grant for the project, which would pay for paper, a camera and, possibly in the future, newspaper stands to place around the school, Gifford said. With Gifford’s help, students brainstormed what they wanted to write about, working in partners to compile a flurry of articles.
Staff from the Holcomb High School’s newspaper, “The Longhorn Times,” stopped by early on to instruct kids how to pick story ideas, interview subjects, take photos and write and edit articles, telling them to lean into areas they’re familiar with and speak to people involved, said Times head editor Kley Tschetter and senior editor Kylee Kruleski. A few weeks later, once the articles were written, they helped the fourth-graders edit.
HHS and Holcomb Middle School both have online papers, but news at the elementary level hadn’t been an option when Kruleski was younger, she said. She was glad the school had sought out the program.
"They were really excited and they asked a lot of questions…” Tschetter said about the fourth graders. “It's pretty young to be starting it, but it's good for them to learn."
The completed, eight-page “Longhorn Life” is filled with 33 short stories about local events, like the fourth grade’s field trip to Pumpkin Paradise in Sublette, profiles on HES teachers and opinion articles on why students should get extra recess, more lunch options, dessert at lunch and vending machines on campus. The latter, Gifford said, was a favorite.
“They have a lot of opinions. It's good for them,” Gifford said.
And it wasn’t the only thing, Thyne said. The paper made writing exciting instead of daunting, taught students about setting goals and meeting deadlines, encouraged open feedback and constant improvement and involved parents and older students, she said. On top of that, it took a worthwhile risk in the classroom.
Fourth-grader Thomas Sauseda said his favorite part of the project was coming up with story ideas and thinking about how he was going to write the article. Sauseda had been talking about the paper for weeks, said his mom, Leticia. The writing experience was worthwhile, but it was also just seeing him actually get excited about school, she said.
Making a paper was more complicated than Myers expected, he said, but he still wants to do it when he’s older. He learned a lot about the teachers in his building, and he liked interviewing subjects and uncovering the information to include in real time.
“I hope it grows into (letting) everybody in this school write something,” he said.
The fourth-grade class will make the paper monthly at least through the end of the school year, Gifford said, and they’ll keep gathering with parents and teachers to read and review their work.
“I think they're just taking ownership in what they're doing and they know that it's going to be published for the world to see," Gifford said. "So, they're taking their time on it and doing a really good job."
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed two statements that were made by Randi Thyne, assistant principal at Holcomb Elementary School.