Middle School Newspaper Is Focal Point of Haldane’s Exploratory Clubs

Revitalization of enrichment program is important to the school

By Alison Rooney

Last spring, the Haldane PTA revived the dormant middle-school after-school enrichment program. Now retitled Middle School Exploratory Clubs (MSEC), the goal of the program, according to Exploratory Committee Chair Kelly Maglio, is to “engage, enrich and empower students. The program is designed to support students’ enthusiasm and interests, enhance development of academic skills, nurture their creativity, and have fun discovering themselves, building self-confidence.”

Haldane Elementary and Middle School Principal Brent Harrington is a strong proponent of the program. He states, “The revitalization of a middle-school enrichment program provides important opportunities for our middle-school students to pursue interests beyond the traditional curricular program. Establishing such opportunities for rich and exciting experiences is an important characteristic of an exemplary middle-school experience. Thanks to the PTA, we are able to once again provide such opportunities to our students.”

Last season’s program began with the creation of a middle-school newspaper and, separately, a creative-writing class with Philipstown’s Edgar-nominated author, David Duffy. (The sequel to his first novel, Last to Fold, titled In for a Ruble, has recently been published.) Duffy, who enjoyed teaching the class, found it valuable for the targeted age group, saying, “Kids love stories, and middle school is a great age for them to begin to learn the craft of what makes a story fun to read.  The students get a big kick out of bringing something from their imaginations to life for their classmates.” Duffy will again be teaching the class this season, which begins on Sept. 28.

Haldane Middle School and High School Librarian Juli Hoffman is the teacher supervising the newspaper. Over the summer, taking a journalistic interest in the project, Philipstown.info The Paper submitted some written questions to her about the endeavor.

How exactly do middle-school kids put together a newspaper?  Are they involved in production as well as writing and editing?

The PTA began offering Middle School Newspaper as an enrichment class during the fourth quarter of the 2011-2012 school year. We had a staff of eight students during this initial run. Meetings were held in the library on Fridays during 10th period (optional study-hall time), with mid-week communication occurring through a group webpage on eChalk (the district’s online learning platform). The students acted as generalists — they all contributed ideas and helped to select the newspaper’s name and layout, wrote at least one article, and helped proofread/edit one another’s work. In addition, a number of them took photographs and worked on the layout, production and distribution of the paper.

As the program continues to run, I expect to see them take on more specialized roles based on where their interests lie. We didn’t have a set goal when we started, but after publishing one issue, it seems as though it will be feasible to put out one issue per quarter.  The paper will be distributed in print format to all middle-school students and also made available online for the entire community through the district website.

What skills do they gain from this outside of the classroom experience? 

I think the benefits that this experience provides our students are numerous. It gives them the opportunity to interact not only with their classmates, but also with students both older and younger in the middle school. It encourages teamwork and cooperation. Additionally, the students have the freedom to write about issues that are important to them and their peers. Knowing that the paper is going to be shared in the school and community is a great incentive for students to work with one another to ensure that their absolute best work is what gets published. It sets the bar incredibly high, and the students really rise to the occasion.

As there is a high-school newspaper, produced by the journalism class, what need is there for a second, middle-school edition?  Do middle-school-age kids appreciate a publication directed specifically towards their grades?  If so, what are some stories that you think middle schoolers would find more compelling or of greatest interest, as opposed to high schoolers, and what sort of ownership of it do they take?

The high-school newspaper covers events and/or interests that are specific to older students. The first issue of the middle-school newspaper included articles about a number of activities that were centered in the middle school (and therefore off the high school’s radar entirely), as well as book reviews of middle-school appropriate reading selections.

As we go forward, we hope to have more in the way of book, movie, music and video-game reviews that are geared specifically towards younger teenagers. Although many of our students have older siblings, they don’t always know the high-school students who are writing for the paper. Part of the fun of reading a school paper is learning about your peers’ activities and interests, and that piece would be missing if our middle-school students only had access to the high-school newspaper.

As middle-school librarian, what role do you play in the enterprise, and why is it important to you?

One of the main things I teach as a school librarian is information literacy, or how to search for, find, evaluate and share information. Many of the skills that are essential for the production of a newspaper are centered around information literacy. Offering this program as an enrichment class gives the students a chance to practice these critical skills in an authentic learning environment that also allows a lot of room for creativity, which ensures that all of the participants involved really enjoy themselves throughout the process.

A PDF of the first issue of the True Blue Tribune (Spring 2012) is available on the library’s website or can be viewed here.

Information on all of this fall’s MSEC programs, which also include guitar with Rick Gedney and yoga with Julia Zern, can be found at Haldanepta.org. Registration opens on Sept. 12, and forms and payment are due in the PTA’s Haldane mailbox by 3 p.m. on Sept. 21. Multiple-class discounts are available as are PTA scholarships; anyone interested in the latter should contact Principal Brent Harrington for more information. All inquiries will be kept confidential.

As the MSEC program gains traction, Maglio says the PTA welcomes the feedback of students and parents. If there are particular classes students or parents would like to see offered or are interested in teaching, contact MSEC Committee Chair Kelly Maglio at [email protected]

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