LEWIS CENTER — Journalism is alive and well in the Olentangy Local School District, with various programs offered in the district at the high school level to give students an introduction to the art. But for one school in the district, students are getting involved at the elementary level.
The Oak Creek Gazette serves as the school newspaper at Oak Creek Elementary in Lewis Center. Once a physical newspaper, the Gazette transitioned to a digital edition this school year in order to save paper.
Around 40 fifth grade students participate in the generation of the newspaper, which features subjects ranging from current events to sports, as well as how-to segments and video interviews with school staff, which are also shot by the students. The paper even has its own cartoon artist.
“It just started with an idea,” said Amy Neishloss Blankenship, Oak Creek’s gifted intervention specialist, of the students taking over the paper. “I think when we met for the first time, it wasn’t even until mid-September.”
The team meets every other Tuesday to discuss the direction of the upcoming edition, and students can and do elect to come in before school or during their lunch breaks to work on the newspaper. Students are free to move throughout different departments from one edition to the next based on their own wishes, and each department has anywhere from six to 10 members each. Members typically take part in at least two different departments.
Because the entire newspaper is online, students are able to communicate with each other on the current happenings and plans for the next edition whether they are at school or at home through Schoology, a learning management system that every student has available on their Chromebooks.
When an edition is published, students can also access it through their Schoology account.
Blankenship is adamant about allowing the students to drive the newspaper in nearly every way, from what types of content will be produced, to the editing process, while herself simply providing general supervision.
“I want it to be theirs, and that’s why I want it to be flexible for them,” Blankenship said. “I’m just the facilitator.”
Her hands-off approach permits a great deal of freedom to the students, which also places significant responsibility on an editorial staff that features a total of nine editors.
One of those editors — Levi Green — stands out as a leader in the program, serving as someone who other students gravitate towards when they have questions. Green said the editing process is his favorite part of working on the newspaper, and Blankenship said of Green, “He has a really good head for bringing (the newspaper) all together in an organized manner.”
Having such a large number of editors helps to fill any availability gaps to ensure there is always someone working on the edition when others aren’t able to dedicate the time, Blankenship said, adding that deadlines for the newspaper are fluid for that reason as well.
For other students, being able to spend time with students they wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to work with is among the best parts of participating in the newspaper.
“Working together with different classes, because you don’t always get to work together with everybody in your grade,” Natalie Deutschendorf, a contributor and editor for the newspaper, said when asked what she enjoys the most.
Lilly Rothman said she most enjoys working on the teacher reports and getting to know her teachers better. She said it is “exciting” to see her name on a byline but admitted there is a nervousness that comes with knowing her peers will be seeing her work.
Asked if the newspaper could one day be integrated into the curriculum at Oak Creek Elementary, Blankenship said she was unsure but open to the idea. She added, however, that its current status is appropriate for the time being.
“I look at it right now as kind of an enrichment opportunity,” Blankenship said, equating it to the other similar opportunities offered such as the spelling and geography bees. She said the newspaper’s status as an elective serves it well because it only attracts those who are truly interested in participating.
However, Blankenship said the paper eventually becoming a part of the curriculum could also prove to be beneficial as well. Mainly, she said students who might not otherwise be interested in the newspaper would be able to see a different side of the work, which might dispel some of their preconceived notions.
Blankenship said she would also be in favor of seeing the newspaper expand to be offered to other grades as well, pointing out there are second graders who are capable of contributing quality content. She said one of the obstacles the newspaper must overcome is drumming up interest from the rest of the school and not just the fifth grade class.
The district, however, has begun to take notice as the team was invited to last week’s meeting of the Olentangy Board of Education to present its newspaper to the board.
Currently, the Oak Creek Gazette staff is working to finish up its current edition, and the goal is to release one more edition in April or May, ahead of the end of the school year.