Tucked away in an ordinary classroom, an extraordinary group of kids are working on an unusual project on a rainy October afternoon.
While most other students at Columbia Elementary School are learning the fundamentals of math or the basics of science, these fifth graders are hard at work preparing interviews and writing stories for CES Paw Printz, the elementary school's journalism program.
Kimberly Davis, a fifth-grade English-Language Arts teacher, started the program in 2017 after she noticed that some of her student’s writing skills were lacking.
“[The scores] were well below state averages, and that’s where the idea started,” she said.
To inspire her students to want to write, she worked with the local newspaper, the Columbian-Progress, to publish stories written by students. About a dozen times each school year, the students write stories published in a full page of their very own in the newspaper.The students choose what they want to write about, come up with their own questions, schedule interviews on their own, then write the stories on their own.
“They take themselves and their partner, and they walk around to the people they want to interview, and they have to do that without my assistance,” Davis said.
Her role is primarily that of overseer, merely making sure all is going well, providing advice and assistance where necessary.
“The kids love it,” Davis said. “They love being able to come up with stories that people in the community get to see and read.”
“It’s cool to see what I’ve made being put in the paper,” said Belle Breland, one of this year’s writers.
“I like that what I’m writing is benefiting the whole community,” fellow writer Mahogany Cain said.
As for what the future holds, Davis is optimistic.
“I would love to get teachers at the middle school involved,” she said. “I want to get to a point where it doesn’t just die off after fifth grade.”
Davis also expressed interest in involving the younger students at the elementary.
So how has the program changed the students?
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen is a spike in their [test] scores,” Davis said. “[But] really it’s not just about scores. They are becoming more confident in who they are. It teaches them a lot about themselves as they’re working throughout the year.”
Even though this year’s writers have only just gotten to work, the difference is astounding. “Already I’ve seen when they get out their writing, they’re more susceptible to trying harder and writing more creatively,” Davis said.
And it’s not just the Paw Printz staff that’s reaping the rewards.
“That confidence is spilling over to other students, too, because they want to work on the newspaper now, and so they’re trying extra-hard too. And that’s really, really important,” Davis said.
Luke Davis is a student in the University of Mississippi School of Journalism. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.