IRELAND — Bouncing with energy and brimming with ideas, staff members of Ireland Elementary’s first student newspaper — The Ireland Times — were all smiles while filling the pages of their quarterly publication Tuesday.
Comprised of 35 third-grade through fifth-grade writers, comic artists and copy editors, the little journalists are among the school’s top-performing language arts students and were selected by their teachers to contribute to the paper at the beginning of the school year.
Many students on staff were initially nervous — some even thought they were in trouble the first day they met in the school’s library — but now, they’ve all grown to love the paper and their individual jobs.
Fifth-graders Regan Book, left, Reese Mundy and Emma Popp answer reader-submitted questions in an advice column 'Dear Spud' for the newspaper. "We wanted to do an advice column," Regan said. "But we weren't sure how many questions we would get. Sometimes it's none but today we got four."
“We get to learn more about teachers and everyone else,” said third-grader Victoria Gunselman.
Times staff members produce informational stories about holidays, feature articles about school teachers and staff, an advice column that responds to anonymous questions submitted by students and much more content. Fifth-grade newspapermen and women also serve as the editing team.
The kids are currently loading up their third edition, which will be a six-page, stapled packet that will be printed at the school and distributed to every Ireland Elementary student.
School librarian and newspaper adviser Susan Gossett started the paper because she wanted to oversee a small group of kids working together and give them a new experience.
“It shows them possibly a career choice they never thought about before,” Gossett said of the benefits of the still-young program. “They love going out and interviewing. I love teaching them new things, teaching them how to research new things.”
Most of the kids have rotated responsibilities — whether they be story beats or artistic contributions — at least once through the first two editions. Gossett sees the class as an opportunity for the kids to network with teachers and staff members they might not normally interact with, such as maintenance and cafeteria employees. The students assemble in the makeshift newsroom each Tuesday in three, 30-minute sessions (separated by grade level) during their language arts blocks. Their third edition of the paper is slated to be released in mid-March.
At a time when kids have their heads buried in technology, it’s refreshing for Gossett to see them “physically putting a piece of paper in their hands” and cherishing it.
Even if they operate on a significantly smaller scale than, say, a high school newspaper, the kids still recognize the importance of community journalism.
Fourth-grader Adonica Meyer said newspapers enable readers to “hear what’s happening in their community or other communities they want to hear about.” He and fellow fourth-grader Eli Clark pen the paper’s holiday column, where the kids’ goal is to inform readers about the intricacies of lesser-known holidays and explain the backgrounds of popular holidays.
Sometimes it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, but all the kids use their discernment and cross-check sources to keep the paper as factual as they can.
Gossett hopes to continue the program into the future, but is unsure if the current members will return next year or if they will be replaced by a new staff. However, one thing is certain. The current group definitely isn’t running out of ideas.
As the third-grade block came to a close Tuesday morning, third-grader Madison Mauck approached Gossett and spouted off story pitches for the paper’s fourth edition, which will be released near the end of school in May.
“I’ve seen the excitement in them when they come back (from interviews),” Gossett said. “They always have something fun to tell me.”