Extra! Extra! Creating & Coordinating an Elementary School Newspaper
Written by: Jim Jeffries
I am truly excited you are interested in starting a school newspaper. I created my first school newspaper, Titan Times, at Tri Elementary School in August of 1999 and the first issue came out that year in September. The first year was a quarterly classroom project. Each student had to write an article, which sounded great at the beginning. I quickly learned that not everyone should have their writing published. With that, my after school newspaper coordinator job for the next 22 years had begun. I moved from Tri to Fairview Elementary School, so The Fairview Review was born a couple of years ago. As you read this blog and the next three in the series, I will give you the ways that have best worked for me. The four blogs will be: #1 – Creation, #2 – Monthly Meetings, #3 – Producing, and #4 – Publishing.
If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. If you decide to create a newspaper, I would love to hear from you, as well as see what you are producing each month. Best wishes!
#1 – Creation
There are many factors you need to consider before starting a school newspaper. First, what grade levels will be a part of the newspaper staff? I used to have fourth through sixth graders on staff at my old school. Now, I only have third and fourth graders, since our fifth graders go to middle school. Also, how often and when will your staff meet? My staff meet once per month on a Thursday from 2:30 until 4:00pm. The second blog in this series will be about my monthly meetings. I chose Thursdays to meet to avoid other after school activities. That way, students can participate in a multitude of activities.
Creating a newspaper from scratch is the hardest part. Even after 22 years of running a newspaper, the beginning of every school year is still super busy for me regarding having everything ready. During the summer, I create several things to prepare for Back to School Night and the first day of school. Things created are an application, schedule, policy sheet, ways to submit their articles, a shirt design, acceptance letter, end-of-the-year certificates, and an end-of-the-year Writer of the Year Award design.
The application and policy sheet create the expectations for the students and parents/guardians. Students start the year with zero points. They lose points for an unexcused absence to a meeting, failing to turn in their article on time, any behavior issues during a meeting, and for not wearing their newspaper shirt to a meeting. Once a student gets to 10 points, they are dismissed from the staff. I usually try to warn parents around the five to six point mark.
“I visit each 3rd and 4th grade classroom to promote the newspaper and talk about what being on the newspaper staff is like.”
In the first week of school, this is the time that I have to become a “salesman” for the newspaper. I don’t have to do this to sell papers. I have to “sell” the students on what it means to be on the newspaper staff. A huge majority of the families at my school do not get a newspaper at home, so they know very, very little about the operations of a newspaper. So, I visit each 3rd and 4th grade classroom to promote the newspaper and talk about what being on the newspaper staff is like. I spend around 10-15 minutes in each room. I pass out applications to any student interested. I also make sure the application due date is announced on the school announcements multiple times.
For Back to School Night, I have applications outside my classroom on a table for students to pick up. I usually have a group of parents who stop by to ask a few questions about the newspaper.
Once a student has completed their application and been accepted to the staff, they receive an acceptance letter, policy sheet, schedule, and ways to submit their articles. Each student receives a free newspaper tshirt for being a part of the staff. Students are expected to wear their shirt to each monthly meeting, per the policy sheet.
Parents appreciate the acceptance letter more than the students. I’ve had several parents tell me they keep the letter for their child’s graduation open house. It is something they cherish for many years.
The policy sheet helps me hold the students accountable. Students do not want to earn points. They earn points for not turning in their article on time, not attending the monthly meeting, poor behavior during meetings, and not wearing their newspaper shirt to the meeting. Each item earns a certain point value. Once a student gets to 10 points, they are dismissed from the newspaper staff. The policy sheet has to be signed by the student and parent/guardian before the first meeting.
With elementary school students, many of them are not used to sharing files via email or Google docs. During our first meeting, I spend time showing students how to submit their files. Students submit their articles in multiple ways. Some submit within an email, while others write their article in Microsoft Word and attach their file to an email. Most write their articles in Google docs and simply click the share button. For your school, you will need to use your school corporation’s expectations for article submissions.
I create the end-of-the-year certificates and award design early just to be prepped for the year. At the end of the year, my school has a Promotion Ceremony for our fourth graders who are moving on to middle school. During this program, I recognize those students who have not been dismissed throughout the year. This past year, I created the Writer of the Year award given out to the most deserving fourth grade student. You may determine that the winner of your award be from any grade. I just chose to make the winner an outgoing fourth grader. The first winner did not earn any points throughout the school year and had many front page articles. I ordered the plaque from a local company near the beginning of May knowing they would have it completed in just a few days.
“Students wear the shirts on our meeting day each month, but also on other days. This is a source of pride for the staff members.”
One thing important to my elementary newspaper staff members is the shirt. Coming up with a cool design is important. At my old school, we had a different design every year. We also rotated shirt colors between black, gray, yellow, and our school color of burgundy. At my current school, we have kept the same design, but have rotated between gray, and our school colors of yellow and green. I am lucky to know and work for a good tshirt designer / gear company. I am also blessed that my school pays for the students to have a free shirt to wear to meetings. Students wear the shirts on our meeting day each month, but also on other days. This is a source of pride for the staff members. Getting a group picture of the newspaper staff and posting it on the school social media pages and in the yearbook is another must do for me each year.
Another thing students love is to have their names read on the school announcements. I make sure the names of the new newspaper staff members are read a couple of times after they have been accepted.
Please use the links below to give you examples, and check out the rest of the blogs in this series to help you create your own school newspaper. If you need any help or have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.