The newsroom: Jane Ryan kindergartners keep print alive for another generation
Don’t tell Melanie Cutrone’s kindergarten class at Jane Ryan Elementary School that newspapers are dying.
The 5- and 6-year-old journalists are just getting started with their monthly publication, “Here’s the Hoot from the 17 Owls in Room 7.”
The classroom newspaper, which is produced by class mother and volunteer Kristin Studeny, is looking ahead to its fourth edition this month, with articles ranging from class news to jokes of the month to interviews with Jane Ryan faculty members.
“The kids think it’s an awesome experience, and the parents love reading it,” said Studeny, who was inspired to get involved because her mother ran her school’s newspaper when she was a young student years ago.
“They love taking it home and showing off what they’re learning in class,” she added. “And the best part is that they get excited about sharing things with each other, because they get to see it together and read through it together every month on a projector in the classroom.”
On the front page, Cutrone leaves a personal note for her 17 students — or “Owls,” as she likes to refer to them in reference to the classroom’s mascot, which is titled “Ms. Cutrone Wants You to Know!” and highlights something going on in the teacher’s life outside the classroom.
In November, the editor in chief wrote about becoming a Connecticut resident after commuting via ferry from Long Island during the first two months of the school year.
As she has done in all three issues of “Here’s the Hoot,” the first-year teacher infused a quote from a student in her inaugural introduction.
“‘Ms. Cutrone is finally moving to America!’” she wrote, quoting her young Owls Logan and Genevieve.
“They thought I was coming here every day from another country, which is just so cute,” said Cutrone, who has since written about dressing up her dog Minnie in a Santa costume before Christmas in December and cooking her first pot of beef stew during the first winter’s snowfall in January.
“Thanks to all of you, my gift of cooking spices has been coming in handy and helping my meals taste great!” she wrote on the front page of the January newspaper.
“It shows that she’s a person and that she has a role in the classroom and a role outside of it, and I think the kids have really started to understand that and they love learning more about their teacher,” Studeny said. “They’re building more of a connection to her, and they really seem to like it.”
Hard work pays off
The paper, which is composed of articles as well as pictures that are written and drawn either during quiet time in class or at home on the weekend, is a shining example for young minds that hard work pays off.
“They’re learning so much from it, whether it’s how to write and put sentences together or how to edit them,” Cutrone said. “It’s something for them to look forward to and they’re so proud when they go through it every month and see what they did.”
Through writing reviews of the books they’ve read in class or drawing images of the gifts they donated for Christmas, the kindergartners continue to build a multitude of new skills every month.
And it’s paying dividends.
“We’re really seeing them grow,” Studeny said. “It’s becoming a big part of their first year as full-time students — it’s a big responsibility to have and they’ve really taken to it.”
“It’s building their confidence every time they get to see their work published,” Cutrone added.
Trial and error
Studeny said she usually puts the paper together late at night after her son goes to bed.
She brings 18 copies in to class — one for each student and one extra that floats around the school for other teachers to examine.
“I wish every room had a volunteer like Kristin,” Cutrone said. “As a first-year teacher, I couldn’t be more grateful to have something like this newspaper ,because it helps me connect with the class and really gives them a chance to apply what they’ve learned.
“The other teachers love it,” she added.
While the final product — with its front-page table of contents and its back-page editorial staff box that details the backgrounds of individual “Room 7 Reporters” — has a finished look, Studeny said the process of putting it together isn’t always that easy.
“There’s been a lot of trial and error so far,” she said. “Lots of scanning and cutting and pasting, but they look forward to it and it’s such a reward to see their faces light up when Ms. Cutrone goes over the latest copy.”
As with any newspaper, part of the process of putting the pages together is making sure each reporter has an assignment to cover at the beginning of the month.
“Kristin and I begin emailing at the beginning of every month to talk about who will be involved and what they’re supposed to do and when,” Cutrone said. “When I tell them their role for that month’s paper, they get really excited — they’re at an age where they love homework, they love having that responsibility and being part of something.”
All the individual contributions add up.
On page 2, which is usually reserved for class news, young journalist Colin Landers wrote in December about learning math, depicting the lesson with a drawing of one smiley-face sticker plus another smiley-face sticker, which he said equals two. He did a similar demonstration for an equation that equaled three.
On the next page in that same issue, 5-year-old Ava Martini was highlighted as the classroom’s “Star Student” for the month and talked about her love for the color pink.
“Pink! Everything Pink!!!” she wrote, and added in a scanned note, “When I am the star student I feel happy!”
Other topics in the inside pages of “Here’s the Hoot” include science, holiday traditions and donations, book reviews, and shapes.
For the February edition, Studeny and Cutrone said an inside topic will be animals and their habitats.
“Sometimes it goes outside of our curriculum, and that’s nice because it’s our thing that we have together, and the children appreciate it even more knowing it’s unique to them,” Cutrone said. “They love the different assignments — the book reviews, the jokes, the weekend reviews — they know they’re going to have a role and they’ve really latched onto that dynamic of the newspaper.”
As with any good newspaper, the reporters are given the appropriate leeway to develop and write about topics that may not be assigned by their editor.
That’s why Cutrone has created a “Here’s the Hoot” mailbox, where students or parents can drop off their own ideas for stories.
“The kids were part of naming the newspaper — after our classroom mascot — and they really seemed to like that, so I thought there should be other ways for them to directly contribute,” she said.
“Their brains are like sponges right now. They love to work and they love to express themselves, whether it’s with drawing or writing or whatever else they want to come up with,” she added.
And that freedom of expression goes beyond just the ideas — it can be seen in the content itself, which gets published, unedited, every month.
“We don’t have parents correct spelling,” Cutrone explained. “We like letting them sound it and spell it how it sounds.”
That produces a lot of “kindergarten spelling,” as Studeny calls it — a key ingredient to the success of “Here’s the Hoot.”
“I never want children to lose their sense of expression,” she said. “I don’t want to discourage them in any way, because this is important; it’s very important to learn how to write and put the pencil to the paper.
“And that’s something they have to learn on their own.”