When I became a New York City public school teacher three years ago, I was shocked to discover our high school didn’t have a newspaper. So in January, I turned my 11th-grade ELA class into the school’s newsroom, which has since published eight issues.
My students unanimously supported the idea when I presented it to them. With their buy-in, I gave them job applications and a list of various roles and responsibilities, including editor-in-chief, associate editor, creative director, business manager, section editors, reporters, columnists and writers.
I asked students to choose their top three from a list of topics or pitch their own topics to write about. Giving them the opportunity to write about their interests for the newspaper sparked excitement to write and to find their voice and writing style.
Once applications were turned in, I held formal job interviews with each student. Students who typically showed little interest in lessons were talkative and excited to convince me to give them their top choice.
After the interviews, I filled positions and announced the choices to the class. Every student was given their first assignment, and from that day forward our classroom turned into a newsroom. Each day students came into class, took a laptop and began writing or researching or designing, all without my direction. Previously unengaged students were writing and asking to go out of the classroom to interview students and teachers for their stories. All of the students in the class took ownership of their positions and worked to make their articles the best they could be.
Our “student voice” reporter pitched his own investigative story about backboards for the gym basketball court. He interviewed students, teachers and administrators and found out that new glass backboards had been sitting in a closet for over two years while the current wood backboards stayed in use. We published the story. Two weeks later, the old wood backboards were replaced by the new glass backboards.
On the day the first issue of the newspaper was published, students in other classes were thrilled to read stories that related to them. Many asked if they could submit stories for the newspaper, or if they could be on the newspaper staff. Days later, I continued to see students in the hallways reading the newspaper or discussing articles with their friends.
Every school should have a student newspaper. Writing for a newspaper not only gives students a voice and prepares them for real-world opportunities, it also gives them something to be truly proud of.