ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA —
The student newspaper at an elementary school outside of Washington, D.C., is helping foster understanding between students whose families come from many different countries.
Producing the paper gives the 10 and 11-year-olds a chance to improve their writing skills, while also teaching them about freedom of the press, a basic tenet of democracy.
The students at Long Branch Elementary reflect the diversity of their community. They come from different racial backgrounds and most of them speak another language at home. A key goal of the newspaper is to bridge the ethnic gap that may exist among students.
English teacher and newspaper editor Jillian Williams says that, for each issue, a student submits a recipe from home that reflects the family's heritage.
“This is one of the most popular segments that often receives positive feedback from our readers," Williams said. "Food brings people together and makes our students realize that cultural differences are good.”
Food and culture are also shared at the school's annual International Night, which the student reporters cover for the newspaper, known as The Little Lion, named after the school mascot.
While covering school events, students learn about freedom of the press, something that is not always present in their parents' native countries.
"They learn that to be a journalist you have to be inquisitive and know how to gather information from different sources," Williams said. "In the process, they learn about objectivity and how to present different points of view."
Learning is also integrated into each issue of the newspaper. Nicholas, who wrote a sports article for last month's issue, is now working on a section called “Math Games.”
“[We’re doing] addition for first [grade] and kindergarten," he said. "We’re doing multiplication for 2nd and 3rd [grades]. For 4th and 5th, we’re doing division, for them to figure out.”
Writing for the newspaper has boosted his classmate, Blaire's, interest in current events.
“It inspired me to read more newspapers because I used to think they were for older people not for kids, but now I realize that’s not true,” she said.
Long Branch students already produce a weekly TV show on current affairs. With the addition of the monthly Little Lion this school year, Williams says her students have more opportunities to develop new skills.
“They’re going to figure out how they are going to get this article done. Do I need to research? Do I need to consult with another staff member or another student? Things like that. So they have to research, they have to plan, they have to organize. They have to edit, take pictures. They’re learning the writing process. They are learning how to communicate, express their ideas in different ways.”
Jillian Williams and her staff writers plan to keep The Little Lion growing, as they cover more topics each month, and encourage more students and parents to read the newspaper.