"All I know is what I read in the papers."
August 28, 2011 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What makes for a good elementary school newspaper? What makes a great one? I'd like to know what parents appreciate (and what they'll actually read). I'd like to know what you liked best when you were a student, either from a contributing or reading standpoint. I'd like to know from school employees/authorities what one needs to be mindful of. And I'd be very glad to know of what I can do to avoid any problems. I'd like to know from teachers about what school newspapers can do for students; and what one could reasonably ask for from the various grades to allow for students to make contributions and so the content is balanced for all ages. I'd love to see links to anything inspiring, and to ideas for content and design and such. So, I'd like a lot of information about stuff I have an idea about, but not much practice with yet. And that's a lot to do with three double-sided pages, I know.

After three years of working to produce fundraisers for the Parent Council at our small, inner city school (Grades K-6, approximately 200 students), I'd like to do something else to be involved going forward. I'm burnt out, tired of asking for money and we have now built them as well-oiled machines that anyone else can run. Here's the novel, because this is how much time I have to put into things I care about:

In the past, we had a "newspaper" which came out five or six times each school year. Photocopied on 2-3 double-sided 8 1/2 X 11 coloured sheets, its content was comprised of messages from the Parent Council Chair and Principal; announcements of upcoming events and sports team successes; student contributions in the form of poems and drawings and sometimes fun features like an interview with a teacher or summer memories. This was compiled by one person who'd run around to gather the information, and who'd submit it to the Office Admin to put together and crank out. So, I know it can be done, and I'm even able to take the strain off the office except they'll probably need to proof for liabilities.

Last year, the Principal put out her own newsletter, so the Parent Council let the "news" lapse - we didn't have the volunteers for it anyway. It was missed, so I heard around the playground. I'm pretty sure the general population in our school would like having a little newspaper again - in part because a percentage of parents mentioned that four pages of nothing but words in comic sans from the Principal was tl;dr. (ahem)

I'd also say that from my perspective, what was missing or not working was that people like pictures and want their information in brief. (ahem, ahem) The Principal's newsletter was also directed to the parents, and while we have only a few ESL students, many of their parents, grandparents or other caregivers may have language barriers and it was just too much. I'd also say that part of the enthusiasm for the old paper came from students looking for pictures and mentions of themselves and friends, and parents sharing it with relatives if their child made a contribution (I did!). And while we're trying to be all eco-friendly and save paper and such, I think our school's community is still more comfortable with print-outs and I'll be asking for donations of recycled paper to print it on to keep the costs to the Parent Council down and to keep our EcoSchool rating up there (we already get donations of reams of paper from local businesses, and we have a closet full to start with). A local print shop helps us from time to time with posters, but likely I'll be cranking them out on the school's photocopier.

While all the information is available on the school's website, and though the Parent Council sends a weekly email to those who've signed up for it, few parents actually check the website; and while about half have signed up for the email, attendance at events and general involvement in the school was rather poor last year, when we'd been experiencing an upswing in years previous. The main purpose of the Parent Council is to facilitate communication between the parents and the school, and I'd like to try this since I have the time and resources and believe we could do better there. I also work in the school, so I have advantages in that too. The people that created and maintained the old newspaper have moved on from the school. This is a fresh start.

Over the summer I've looked at the binder containing four years' worth of newspapers that the Office Administrator kept, and mrgood (hegood?) is the guy to help me with the layout (he does enough of this for a living in terms of studio production, once specialized in pre-press and has a whaddyacallit journalism degree). I've figured that interested kids can show up and take a table with me once a week during the Breakfast Club, to keep it manageable, interesting, accessible and and to avoid scheduling meetings that require wrangling teachers - though we'll have the necessary contact and supervision and permissions of course. The school used to have a "Shutterbug Club" years ago - I thought I'd ask for donations of old point and shoot digital cameras (and we have one to offer) to sign out - though many kids have their own - to let the students photograph events. I know about the media releases - there's always a master list in the principal's office that would be checked before any image goes in it.

For September, I'd like to start with a masthead contest (there was one in the past) and the usual useful information, and the space for soliciting contributions from students.

In the future, I have ideas for features with their input, such as:

-"Caught You Being Good"
-"Way to Go" (for kids that accomplish something great outside of the school setting - or for teachers who do cool things like Dragon Boat racing in their spare time)
-Reviews of the Breakfast Club meals (or, would it be funny if kids wrote a restaurant-style review of their lunches?)
-a comic or drawing
-"Style Stars" (school "street fashion" blogging?)

and of course, I'll be asking students what they'd like to see in it.

But, please feel free to walk me through this. Advice on scheduling and soliciting contributions (and rejecting some) and yes... writing in brief... would be much appreciated. Thanks so much in advance, in hope of any help!
posted by peagood to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Consider your target audience. If it's for parents, the students won't find it very interesting. Sounds like you've got plenty already to keep parents informed of events, so I'd keep it kidcentric, with lots of photos (with parent permissions of course) and names. If students are in it, they're going to share it with their parents and be proud of themselves.

Sure, put reminders about "open house on this date" but keep those brief and direct parents to the website/emails for more details.

Ask lower grades students for favorite jokes, older students can volunteer to write book reviews. Ask teachers to solicit student artwork as well. The more the students are included, the more they're going to read and support it.

Maybe come up with a worksheet for each teacher to fill out for the coming month: special events for that class, students who deserve recognition, etc. Use those to write little classroom roundups.

I'd be careful about reviewing food in the cafeteria though.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:00 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd look for ways to connect the kids, and parents, to community events and resources that would interest them. Particularly things that would interest low-income parents -- because they tend to be least hooked into the PTA, and tend to have fewer opportunities to search out stuff like that. And it sends a message -- the PTA, not just for blonde SAHMs anymore!

So a sidebar:
  • Do you have a child under 5? Are you pregnant or breast-feeding? WIC provides healthy food and other services to Our Town families. Call (562) 555-1234 for more info. Free
  • Our Town Museum of Art art classes for kids start Sept 5. $30/6wks. Scholarships available. Call (562) 555-1234
  • Parade and cultural fair Sept 12. Parade starts at Bayshore Dr. and 2nd St, 12pm. Free
  • Etc...

posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:29 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I were a kid, I'd care about seeing myself/my friends, and anything funny or cool. So trivia is good, weird news that's kid-appropriate, jokes. If your school has been around a while it might be fun to put in a bit about what it used to be like..."in the 80s, you had to wear a gym uniform with green striped socks" or what have you.

Or even funnier, old pictures of current teachers. Mr. Adams used to have long hair and rock the sideburns, that kind of thing. With the person's permission of course.

Are you going to let kids contribute anything significant, do any student reporting? Not all kids will be interested, but you could certainly hook into it as part of class projects, extra credit, honors stuff, etc.

Is it going to end up online eventually? There may be confidentiality issues (or maybe not, I think everybody is currently confused about how much info on their kids gets on Teh Internets).
posted by emjaybee at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Move beyond the newspaper.

My school district has pushed out blogging to our schools and teachers. Has your district done something similar? Heck, forget blogs. A monthly "class e-mail" with contributions from your kids would be great, especially if it was something that "Mom" could forward to "Gramma".
posted by SPrintF at 3:05 PM on August 28, 2011

Years ago I put together the first monthly newspaper for my daughters' elementary school. It was a ton of work. Like, hours upon hours. Meetings with kids, writing, printing, getting special guest columnists, distribution, etc.

And very few people ever bothered to read it.

I don't read my son's school newspaper and as a teacher, every month when my homeroom is given our monthly paper, the kids automatically throw it in the recycling bin.

I think you should think about the blog idea instead. Volunteering (or even getting paid) to do a newspaper is a massive effort and it's not really appreciated by the intended audience.
posted by kinetic at 3:26 PM on August 28, 2011

Checking back in - these are great answers.

To respond (it's a lazy Sunday!):

We don't have a cafeteria - we have a lunchroom (I'm a supervisor). Parents would be surprised at what happens with their lovingly-packed lunches, and the verbal reviews I get are hysterical - as in "I love baby carrots! They fit in my nostrils!" Though we encourage kids to "boomerang" lunch, it would be a great way to get parents thinking about what kids will eat, not just what we think they'll eat. "Well, I didn't finish my sandwich because it's as big as my face." When I volunteer for the breakfast program, I always ask about the food and learned things like "I like to add my own toppings", which helped us to serve the participants better. Giving them this space to talk about food would be a new way to promote something we all worked on last year. We have a Healthy Snack program, where every week a fruit or vegetable is featured, and a parent donates enough for everyone in a classroom; and I offer spot prizes for catching them eating them of their own accord in the lunchroom or being able to answer a fact about it learned from the morning announcements. It was hugely popular, where I had to turn it into a daily draw because we had a lot of kids willing to participate. I'd be careful.

Teacher forms are great, and I hadn't thought of book reviews! The teacher who is Librarian this year will probably be my biggest help, so yes!

pH Indicating Socks - that is exactly why I want to have a newspaper. We have around many low-income parents in our gentrifying neighbourhood, and yes, our Parent Council is made up of the more privileged parents. I think that other parents work a lot, and this is an easy way for them to get the information. As well, not many people know exactly what the Parent Council does. Though we post the information on a board at the school, some parents never enter the school. I see in our old newspapers that the drop-in Parenting Centre always was given space to mention their services and to post about their goings-on.

emjaybee, that's great. One newsletter from seven years ago that I just read has the information introducing the teacher who'll be my daughter's 2/3 teacher this year. She was tickled to read it. The newspaper is going to end up online, but as I'd mentioned, very few people go to the school's website and only half are signed up for the weekly email. We need to reach everyone, not just the tech-savvy parents. And, about 30 of our students at any given time are from the nearby shelter, so this would be a good way for their parents (and the shelter's workers!) to know a bit about the school. Confidentiality-wise, we have media releases for pictures and a "no-publish" list for about a dozen kids. I see that the old newsletters don't use last names - just first and initial or name plus room number. I will clear that with the principal. Thanks for the reminder.

Blogging - our eco-club has a blog, written by students and the advisor, which is linked to the school's website. The school's website has to work within the format provided by the district, so it's clunky, though our office admin has done wonders with it. Not many know about it, even so, therefore the paper would promote things like that, and mention how the teachers put classroom work on the website too. The paper would remind people to look, because right now, they don't. I mean, look what I do and I never go there myself unless I'm prodded!

And kinetic, I'd like to know why don't anyone read it? Were people overwhelmed with school information? Was the newspaper you put out needed? Are the parents involved enough that they don't need it? And, why do your students throw theirs away? What's the complaint about it?

In our school, I used to see the kids read the paper at lunch, and at pick-up time the parents would take copies off the table in the front hall and read it while they waited for the kids. The Principal's newsletter went home in backpacks, where parents saw all the words and groaned (I witnessed this on the playground). I'm not trying to come in like a superhero - I just want to reinstate something that used to work, but make it more effective.

For me, making it happen will be less work than organizing fundraisers. I plan to meet once a week at the Breakfast Club. Most of the kids I'd suspect will be interested already attend that - and it may attract some we'd like to see at Breakfast Club too, which needs more students to keep its funding. I figured week one, outline the next issue. Week two, hand out article assignments. Nudge and guide as needed when I see the kids at lunch recess. Week three, select and lay-out the items for the paper (husband's creating a template). Week four, print and distribute. We don't need to sell ads, subscriptions or anything - it's free. With only 200 students, many of them siblings, it used to be offered in the classrooms and if kids didn't want it, those copies would go on the table in the front hall. Our old papers were rinky-dink, but popular. I just want to update them.
posted by peagood at 4:17 PM on August 28, 2011

One thing my elementary school did was have the teachers give one-sentence summaries of what they did in each subject that week, and then a short paragraph describing the ups and downs of the week in that grade. This was really cool to read (it's still cool to read!), because then you get a panoramic view of what your kids are learning, and also a picture of what the whole school is covering. The only downside is that teachers have to spend a little while writing their sections up, and teachers are always busy.
posted by superiorchicken at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about a "man on the street" type column - ask a question to several kids and print the answers. It lets you get more kids into the newletter without them having to have any special abilities or accomplishments. It would also be very easy for a cub reporter to write.
posted by metahawk at 7:27 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Is this guy really confident, or a weirdo?   |   I'm feeling a bit sheepish... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.