Student newspapers are a vibrant part of most university campuses and many high schools, but it’s not easy to find a paper written by students for students in elementary school.
Look no further than the team behind Starlight News — which comprises a dozen Grade 5 and 6 students at M.V. Beattie Elementary in Enderby.
Sierra Reap is the newspaper’s editor in chief. She started the paper after noticing that the school’s newsletters were mostly designed for kids to take home to their parents, rather than to be read by the students themselves.
“Usually in high schools there’s newspapers and those are student-run, so maybe stuff that students actually want to read about,” Reap said at her paper’s Friday story meeting, attended by fellow students Lexi Derksen, Anna Collins, Molly Korf and Charlie Telford.
The news team spends two lunch hours every week working on their weekly publication.
“I thought that was a really good idea to bring here, because sometimes it’s kind of boring to read novels and stuff like that, and you can just read a newspaper instead and see what’s actually going on in your school,” Reap said.
For last week’s paper, Derksen delved into a topic rife with controversy among M.V. Beattie students: Gaga ball. It’s a variation of dodgeball students play during lunch, the problem being that nobody can seem to agree on what the rules should be.
“There’s always arguments in the Gaga pit,” Derksen said. From that starting point, she crafted some questions for further investigation: why do people like Gaga ball? Is there anything they’d like to see changed? What could be done better?
“I found out a lot of people like to play the waist down,” she said, describing one of the handful of rules that constitute a gray area in the rulebook.
“There’s this (rule) that used to be called ‘tap-ins’ and I was trying to get opinions on who liked it and what they think. And riding on the boards — that’s another thing that people can never agree on. Everybody I ask thinks that’s cheating.”
Derksen said there have not been any monumental changes to the way Gaga Ball is played as a result of her reporting, but there has been an increase in rule enforcement — and insofar as journalists can hope to affect change through their work, that has to be considered a victory.
“There’s more teachers around to try to prevent all the cheating and the not-so-nice language being said, so I’m thinking that it’s getting better, just very slowly.”
Progress is slow, but the same can’t be said about the news cycle. That said, the team at Starlight News seem to be handling the pace well. At their Friday story meetings they can create a plan for the entire week with stories assigned to everyone in about five minutes.
Derksen said she spoke to two or three people for her Gaga ball story, but next time she wants to get a larger sample size of student opinion.
“This time, in hockey, I’m hoping to get more opinions because it’s a smaller group,” she said, already thinking ahead to some scheduling challenges she’ll have to contend with, as journalists often do. “In hockey, the game doesn’t end until the bell rings, so I probably need to get them at a different time.”
The paper has only been up and running since September, but once the team has gained some experience, they might try their hands at broadcast journalism. Principal Gene Doray said the students could air the school’s daily agenda on a YouTube channel in the future.
“Instead of the morning announcements from the speakers, he came up with an idea to maybe have us reporting on stuff to put on our Smartboards,” Reap said.
Whether they stick to print or go live on the air, the students have left staff at the school amazed by their enthusiasm and self-direction.
“I’m so impressed that they recognize the importance of student voice and the need for student voice in an elementary school,” vice principal Mishel Quaal said.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen this type of initiative from elementary school children to recognize the need for their voice to be heard in their education here.”