Thursday June 20, 2013

How do we get kids interested in the news?

One way The Banner and our sister newspapers recently attempted this feat -- one that’s especially challenging at time when print journalism is slowly and painfully being replaced by digital media -- is to put an educational, interesting fictional story in the paper for use in schools.

Our "morning serial," a new chapter of which is released over a couple of months’ worth of consecutive Saturdays, follows the adventures of a boy named Danny Dollar as excerpted from a book, "Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinare -- Lemonade Escapade," by author Ty Allen Jackson. Jackson is a Berkshire County, Mass., children’s author.

The print versions of the colorful, illustrated full-page stories -- as well as digital access -- are given to area schools for free to use in the classroom as part of a Newspaper In Education partnership with New England Newspapers Inc. and Big Head Books.

One of those local schools was North Bennington Graded School. To bring home the lesson of news, Mrs. Pat Gibbons’ sixth grade class paid a visit to The Banner as well as to nearby CAT-TV and WBTN on April 9.

That afternoon I gave the 30 or so youngsters an overview of what the jobs are in the newsroom and what we do to get a paper out. I also introduced them to Missy Place, Banner ad coordinator, who described the advertising process, and Chris Oldham, circulation sales manager, who talked about the whole newspaper cycle, from story idea to delivery. Chris, incidentally, was once a student of Mrs. Gibbons’.

What struck me about this group of 11-year-olds were the insightful questions they offered and their genuine interest in how things work at a newspaper. Asked to raise a show of hands, we found many of the students had already been featured in the paper in a photo or story and were familiar with The Banner.

After the visit, Chris and I received polite thank-you notes from the class (handwritten with beautiful penmanship, I must add).

Here are some of the highlights:

"I learned many things while we were there including: The Editor takes in all of the articles and edits them. I also learned that all of the articles have to be sent and edited by 10:45 p.m. to have them delivered by the next morning," wrote Amelia Schroeder.

"I think it is interesting how you have a new chapter of a book in your paper every Saturday," wrote Molly Austin.

"I did not know that you emailed The Banner to Massachusetts. I thought you printed it there in Bennington. The Banner building was big and fun," said Logan Dommke.

"I can’t wait to start reading about Danny Dollar! I have never been inside the Bennington Banner. I’m glad I did," wrote Juliana Gabriel.

"I think that it would be fun writing for the Banner and I think that it was a good idea to have a ‘letter to the editor,’" wrote Sam Chaney.

Mrs. Gibbons also wrote to us: "Our discussion back at school emerged as a strong look at different career possibilities in journalism and in the production end, too."

That couldn’t have been a better outcome.

How can you encourage your kids’ interest in reading and current events over the summer? A 2012 State Point Media suggests, "Read together. Subscribe to a daily paper. Let the children pick which articles they want to read and help them with the words and concepts they don’t understand. Read at least a few front page news articles together then allow children to skip to whichever sections of the paper they find most interesting."

I remember flipping to the comics page and the horoscopes first when I was a kid. Next I liked to read the arts or living features. But first I had to wrestle them away from my dad.

The Danny Dollar serial is a fun way to get kids into reading the paper. Or just reading.

~Michelle Karas