Pupils write, edit, read their very own newspaper

November 20, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

When Harford County newspaper publisher Maureen Jones plans a staff meeting, she asks all of her writers, editors, artists and ad designers to finish their homework before they arrive.

"Our rule is that homework comes first," said Ms. Jones, a 33-year-old Bel Air graphic artist who recently launched Just us Kids -- a monthly local newspaper staffed by county schoolchildren ages 5 to 16.

"This is a kids' newspaper," Ms. Jones said. "We publish news and information for, by and about school-age kids in Harford County. The news that gets lost in the bigger papers fits right in with ours."

Fifteen to 20 young volunteers help Ms. Jones with the publication -- squeezing their newspaper work into busy

schedules of school, homework, sports, religious education and even a few part-time jobs.

They meet several times a month in the executive board room of a Bel Air office building where Ms. Jones operates her graphics and typesetting company, M. G. Jones Graphics & Print.

"All of the other work I do is for someone else," Ms. Jones said. "I wanted the satisfaction of doing this myself, to be able to say, 'This is my project.' "

"I'm proud of this paper."

Seated in leather high-back chairs around a polished wooden meeting table at an editorial meeting, the children discuss one another's work, develop story ideas, write group poems, make illustrations, develop word games and paste up the paper before it is printed.

A typical issue of Just us Kids includes stories about a new playground, an art festival, a special event at a local school, plus original poetry and drawings, and articles on children's views on such topics as the baseball strike and a new ride at Disney World.

jTC The young writers have conducted surveys on favorite sports and Halloween candy, and teen-agers have written about their experiences learning to drive and dieting.

Ms. Jones writes an editorial each month reflecting her "feelings for the season." And a calendar focuses on activities of interest to children and their families.

"The kids really deserve so much credit," Ms. Jones said. "They're a lot of fun to work with. Everything is new and exciting for them. I try not to edit their work too much. I think it's not my place."

Ms. Jones began the project after sharing her ideas for a children's newspaper with business associates, friends and relatives. Some of them had children who enjoy writing and were anxious to be a part of the venture. The first issue was published in August with a staff of six, but more youngsters have joined the crew as word of the newspaper spread.

Lindsey Knorr, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air, was one of Ms. Jones' first student staff members.

"It's fun and it makes me feel real important," Lindsey said. "Writing comes real easy to me. Once I get started, I can write and write and write and write."

"It's a good opportunity for her to develop her writing skills," said Lindsey's father, Bob Knorr. "And, like any writer, she loves to see that byline."

J. D. Blewett, 10, would like to be a reporter someday. He believes he is the type. "I like to procrastinate, and I think I work a lot better on a deadline," said the Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School fifth-grader.

Sarah Keller, a third-grader at Bel Air Elementary School, likes to draw and write poems. "It's been fun because [Ms. Jones] gives us pizza almost every time we go," she said. "I heard her say she's honoring us for all the work we've done."

Stacy Sanderson, a sophomore at C. Milton Wright High School, writes for the teen page. Ms. Jones, she said, "is really cool about what we write. We have freedom to write our thoughts. We can write about real life."

In addition to the articles and art produced by her staff, Ms. Jones encourages the students -- and their teachers -- to submit original essays, artwork and news for possible publication.

"They can send in anything they want that's creative and newsworthy," she said. "I want teachers to see this as a learning aid."

Cooky Hastings, a language arts teacher at Southampton Middle, has submitted journal entries and poems written by her students -- who earn extra credit if their work is published.

"I'm really thrilled about the paper," Mrs. Hastings said. "I hope she keeps it up and I'd like to see it grow."

Marcia Spicer, a media specialist at Perryville Elementary School in Cecil County, offered to write book reviews for the newspaper after her 6-year-old daughter, Jeanette, brought home a copy from Churchville Elementary School.

"I thought it was the most fantastic thing," Mrs. Spicer said. "I thought it helped the kids to express themselves in an unbounded, free way."

About 1,000 sample copies of the first issue of Just us Kids were printed in August. The newspaper, distributed free in Harford schools, has grown since then from four pages to 12, and Ms. Jones plans to print 10,000 copies in December. Currently, 23 Harford schools receive the paper. Others need only to call 838-4946.

The newspaper is financed by advertising and two corporate sponsors, Forest Hill Bank and Harford Mall. So far, it has made enough money to cover expenses, Ms. Jones said.

"It's a very good opportunity for our kids," said Donald R. Morrison, a county schools spokesman. "We are always looking for realistic learning opportunities. This is also another opportunity for us to get school news out to the public in a very appealing way."

Ms. Jones also delivers copies of Just us Kids to the Harford County library, which distributes them at its branches.

"It's a nicely done publication," said Evelyn Moessinger, the county's senior children's librarian. "It's good for the children having a venue where they can exhibit their drawings, poetry and articles."

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