At Prospect Middle Schools, Real Life Reporters Write the News - Brooklyn Prospect Charter School

At Prospect Middle Schools, Real Life Reporters Write the News

There’s no question that Artificial Intelligence and the rise of ChatGPT have been all the buzz in journalism. But news stories written by student journalists are published at our middle schools, thanks to students!

Clinton Hill Middle School’s The Scoop published three issues this year, and at Windsor Terrace Middle School, The Bi-Weekly News hit email boxes twice. This is no small feat at a time when school newspapers are not exactly thriving, according to a study conducted in 2022 by Geanne Belton, a journalism professor and director of the high school journalism program at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York.

We caught up with the faculty advisors of the two newspapers to find out “the latest” in their newsrooms.

Alexei Stevens, a Math teacher, is the advisor for the newspaper club at CHMS, which was started in the 2021-22 school year when students approached Principal Matt Ellis with the idea. This school year, there were eight students from various grades in the club. About 100 copies of the paper were printed this year and placed around the school in the library, ELA, and humanities classrooms. It also goes out in the family update, and Stevens sends it via email to the faculty.

Why did you decide to become an advisor for this group? 

Stevens: “I remember thinking there are just so many interesting things that go on in a community. I had just found out that a student who I had been teaching all year was a violin virtuoso, and I didn’t know it, and that bothered me. I was thinking about this in the context of classroom culture and how the downstream effects of knowing one another better could positively impact it. And the thought just popped into my head it would be great to have a newspaper; I didn’t know at the time that we already did. The question came up of whether anyone would like to advise the newspaper for this year, and I just put my hand up, and that was that.”

Has anything about this group and their approach to news (and features, like the advice column) surprised you? 

“From the get-go, there was an interest in just reporting stuff that’s going on at school. Our first issue covered a lot of sports – basketball, cheerleading, and flag football. It also covered student council, elections, and a few other things that were very much ‘here’s what’s going on at our school.’ I just sort of loved that they wanted to do that. They are an incredibly motivated, fun, positive group of kids. And they are kids–there are definitely meetings that are not very productive, but there’s still a ton of energy that goes into these pieces. Most of the writing actually happens outside of our meeting time, and then the other half is checking the status of what everyone’s working on, popcorning new ideas for articles, and making decisions about what to cut and what not to (this is very bottom up, not top-down, and some of it actually is just “I got bored writing that so I don’t want to do it anymore“ kind of cuts) and then half just hanging out and laughing about silly stuff.  I’ve been sort of thinking about ways to grow next year, including possibly having the meetings have a little bit more of a codified structure, but I also don’t want to get in the way of what seems to bubble up from their enthusiasm organically.”

Do the writers pitch their own ideas?

“All the ideas are 100% their own. I have pitched a couple of ideas, but, despite interest at the time I brought them up, they always ran with their own ideas instead, which is actually great. My role has really been more to suggest sources. ‘Have you thought about interviewing Ms. Garrison Fienberg about that?’ ‘I bet Mr. Ellis would know something about that.’ ‘What if you asked Ms. Shah about that?’ A 6th-grader wanted to write a piece about being new to the Prospect Schools Charter Network, and I put him in touch with two of my 8th-grade students who were new this year—that kind of thing.”

Krista Conti, a Literacy Intervention and Humanities Learning Specialist, is the advisor for the newspaper club at Windsor Terrace Middle School. There were four students in the club this year. The Bi-Weekly News goes out in the school’s Family Update, and Conti emails the issue to faculty.

Q: How did you come to lead the Newspaper Club? 

Conti: I noticed the after-school program reached out about any staff member interested in leading the Newspaper Club, and it caught my eye!

Q: What grades are represented in the club? 

“We currently have four 6th-grade students, but they make it a priority to branch out to 7th and 8th grade for their opinions and thoughts.”

Q: How are story ideas conceived? 

Story ideas are conceived by a collaboration between myself and the student reporters. Student reporters are able to branch out and use their research skills to find the most trending topics by not only looking online but also asking their peers, friends, and teachers. The student reporters also wanted to cross-collab with 7th and 8th graders by interviewing one student and one staff member so others can be aware of getting to know each other in the school community.” 

Q: Has anything about this group and their approach to news (and features: fashion, celebrity drama, and sports) surprised you? 

“The student reporters did not have much background in breaking news and sports, but they made it their mission to go speak to other students who may be more educated in both fields. I was surprised by this because when developing a template together, they were very shy and not sure of what topics they wanted to report on, but they did a great job with drafting our first newspaper. It is very sad to hear that so many high schools do not have newspapers, as there is so much going on in the world and the school community that can tie us together. I definitely want to bring the Newspaper club back next year, maybe a bit sooner in the school year, as many testing days and events happen at the end of the year.”