Another news outlet has hit Pelham, and Colonial Elementary School students are taking care of the pitching, reporting and editing.
When Rich Zahradnik decided to launch a newspaper at his son’s school, he wanted to take it straight to the Internet. Principal Tonya Wilson was immediately sold when Zahradnik—who’s worked in journalism for 28 years—approached her in the fall. After spending some time deliberating a name, the group of about 20 budding fourth and fifth grade reporters unveiled the district's first online newspaper in January, The Colonial Times.
“The kids were enthusiastic from the first Town Hall meeting when we presented the idea,” remarked Zahradnik who oversees every aspect of the after-school club, which meets twice a week.
Zahradnik’s model follows that of a professional newsroom’s. The students brainstorm story ideas—from environmental initiatives to flash mobs (that’s an impromptu dance party). After conducting interviews and taking notes, the kids settle into the library where they type up five paragraph stories, of about 400 to 500 words, complete with headlines, leads and quotes.
“I thought it would be interesting and fun because I like writing,” remarked Francesca DiCristofano on why she joined the club. “I didn’t know it would be this fun.”
Thanks to the intuitive blogging software, Zahradnik said that the club was relatively easy and inexpensive to establish. The students pair polls with their stories, and have the ability to add podcasts and video. The club currently has an iPhone application in the works too.
“It has been challenge free,” Zahradnik said. “The technology has changed so much that setting up is just so easy now.”
In addition to teaching the students how to report, Zahradnik arranges for guest speakers from the media industry to speak to the students about their jobs and the various journalistic opportunities available in the field.
The program has proven to be such a success, that he hopes other schools will follow suit.
“It’s both a newspaper for Colonial and a bit of a pilot,” said Zahradnik.