Student newspaper to ‘soar’ over walls

Schools often block the public’s participation in its activities. Harnessed by today’s safety and security measures, a school’s activities, projects and events often go unnoticed beyond the teachers, parents and students directly involved. A school’s walls become its barriers.

Physical barriers, though, can be scaled with words, and that is the intent of the new Hobe Sound Elementary School newspaper. Student-led and inspired, the newspaper will be part of the local news publication, Hobe Sound Currents. One page of the newspaper tabloid will be devoted entirely to the school’s news and events with stories written by its own staff of fifth-graders.

“We selected those students who scored 100% on the FCAT writing test to participate in this project,” said Principal Joan Gibbons. “These students all like to write, and so they seemed to be the ideal candidates to join a newspaper club.”

Four students accepted the challenge of applying their writing skills and talent in a journalistic endeavor, but one of them later changed her mind, recognizing that writing stories just adds to her homework. Those who remained on staff were Maggie Wright, daughter of Jean and Rob Wright of Indiantown, Julia Surgeont, daughter of Michelle and Steve Surgeont of Gomez, and Devon Clowdus, daughter of Shane and Amy Clowdus of Gomez.

Devon, also the granddaughter of Hobe Sound Currents Publisher Barbara Clowdus, was the first to suggest that the school should have its own news reporter for Hobe Sound Currents, an idea embraced by her fellow students, which spawned the concept of an all-grades newspaper.

“This means extra work on your part,” Mrs. Gibbons warned the group at their first meeting in mid-October, “so please think about it carefully before you decide.”

The newspaper will be published every other week, and students will turn in their first drafts on Fridays and final drafts on Tuesdays—receiving feedback and assistance from the newspaper publisher, as well as each other—to polish their stories, to write in the third person, to create compelling “grabber” sentences (called leads in a newspaper), and to offer balanced coverage of issues and topics, as they learn to express themselves clearly and concisely.

“There is no pressure to do this,” the principal added, “but if you commit to it, then you will need to meet during lunch and give up recess twice a week; you may need to spend some time writing at home, as well, so if you feel that this requires too much added time on top of your present schedule, just don’t do it.”

The young writers sat around the school conference table at first silent, then one by one, shaking their heads up and down to affirm their intentions to proceed. Maggie, with blonde curls bouncing, was the first to say, “Yes! I want to do this,” with a grin that enveloped her face.

Soon, as preteen girls are wont to do, they began chattering at the same time, tossing out ideas, some silly, some serious, first poking fun, then complimenting each other, and with dry-erase markers in hand, standing at the board writing story ideas, drawing cartoon characters. A cacophony of lilting voices and laughter filled the conference room.

Their first serious task was to name their newspaper. About half a dozen possibilities emerged, as did their individual personalities, with Devon taking the lead, gesturing broadly with both arms as she talked; Maggie responding with eyebrows as much as with words. Julia, the group’s firecracker, punctuated ideas by bouncing up off her chair as she talked.

After the first vote, the group chose to name the school’s newspaper The Eagle Times, adopting the school mascot as part of its banner. The staffers will brainstorm every two weeks to decide the stories to be written. Then they will make appointments, conduct interviews, take pictures, and use computers to write and submit their stories.

It quickly became obvious to the staff that three students were not sufficient, so the editor nominated Myles Mousseau, which was endorsed by his teachers and the principal. Myles, also a fifth grader, is the son of Robert Mousseau of Mark Landing, and has a particular interest in sports.

“He is a really great writer,” says Devon, when she nominated him. “I think he would be a good addition to our club.”

Currently, each reporter has selected his or her own assignment, and upcoming stories will include a “farm” project to plant vegetables; a discussion of the school’s programs and policies that show students and teachers how to deal with bullies; the benefits of a new computer lab; the Eagle’s Nest broadcasting club, and the school’s intramural basketball league.

If the “experiment” succeeds, then invitations to members of the fourth-grade class will be offered to join the staff some time during the second semester, according to the principal, to ensure the newspaper’s continuity next year.

“We truly are excited about this opportunity,” said Mrs. Gibbons. “It’s going to be up to the students entirely to fill that page each issue. They’re going to learn a lot more than just writing stories. They’re learning about organizing their time. They’re learning about deadlines. They’re learning responsibility.”

It sounds like the beginning of … adulthood.