By Bob Skolnik
At a time when many newspapers are struggling, a new publication started up this year with a staff of 42 pint-sized reporters, editors and photographers. The newspaper is called the Husky News and it covers Hollywood School in Brookfield.
The first 10-page edition of the Husky News came out in December. The paper, produced by a staff of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders at Hollywood School will publish three editions this year, one for each trimester. The first edition can be viewed at the Hollywood School website (www.district96.org/hollywood) by clicking the "Husky News" link on the home page.
The person behind Husky News is Sharon Tomecek, a Riverside resident who works as a paraprofessional at Hollywood School. A former professional journalist, Tomecek worked for 12 years as a writer/editor for publications of the National Association of Realtors and the National Safety Council.
As a parent, Tomecek had helped with the Central School Roadrunner, the annual yearbook produced by the fifth-graders there. That gave Tomecek the idea of having a school newspaper at an elementary school.
"It was something that I've always wanted to do," said Tomecek who has worked as a paraprofessional for District 96 for the past 14 years, the last five at Hollywood School.
At the beginning of the school year Principal Kim Hefner invites all staff members to meet with her to talk about any ideas they may have for the new year. This year in her meeting with Hefner, Tomecek brought up the idea of starting a school newspaper.
"She was like, go for it," Tomecek said of Hefner's reaction.
So Tomecek began recruiting a staff, passing out signup sheets. Forty students showed up for the first meeting. After weighing various alternatives, students chose Husky News, named after the school's mascot.
"We try to have something for everyone," Tomecek said. "We have editing, writing, interviewing, photography, cartoons, word searches, anything that they are interested in doing."
Students meet with Tomecek and Reading Specialist Christine Cooley on Tuesday during the lunch and recess periods to hash out assignments and roles, pitch story ideas, and work on stories. Tomecek even created press passes for the staff to wear around their necks.
On a recent Tuesday meeting fourth-graders Lorelei Buckley and Lilly Luethje teamed up to interview Shannon Towers, a new paraprofessional at Hollywood, for a forthcoming story.
Buckley and Luethje are best friends and have known each other since just before kindergarten. The opportunity to work with friends is one of the draws of working on the newspaper.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity to work with some of my friends," Luethje said.
Both Luethje and Buckley say that working on the paper has made them better informed about what's going on at the school.
"I've learned about teachers and events," Luethje said.
Buckley says that she does not mind missing out on recess once a week to work on the paper.
"It's fun," Buckley said. "I just like writing, instead of not knowing what to do outside."
Fifth-grader Maia Nelson, who transferred this year to Hollywood from a Montessori school, thought that working on the paper would be a good way to make friends.
"This is my first year at the school, and I thought it would be a nice way to meet some friends," said Nelson who for the first edition wrote a story about visiting author Natalie Lloyd.
Nelson is already a versatile journalist. She reports, writes, takes photos and played a big role in the design of the masthead of the paper.
There are no titles or hierarchy. Sometimes students work in pairs. Others work alone, but students say they have learned teamwork.
"I learned how much work it is writing a newspaper and how many parts there are, like photographers, writers, reporters and teamwork." Nelson said. "Everyone can make a difference. It doesn't really matter what grade, what age. You count, no matter who you are."
For the first edition Tomecek did most of the page layout, but she hopes that as her young charges gain more experience they will eventually do more of it themselves.
Students use their Chromebooks and sometimes use the school's digital camera to take photos.
"We're trying to use as much technology as they can," Tomecek said.
The first edition included interviews with District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye and new second-grade teacher Ronald Barbercheck as well as stories about various events at the school.
Third-grader Emma Hlavaty and fifth-grader Cody Livingston teamed up to interview Ryan-Toye.
"It was kind of fun and I was kind of nervous at the same time," Hlavaty said.
Livingston enjoyed interviewing the superintendent.
"I got to see what she did, and it was very interesting," Livingston said.
For the next issue Livingston is working on a bit of an investigative piece.
"I want to do a photography project, and I want to see what's up in the attic … so I'm going to go up there with a camera, probably with Ms. Tomecek and Ms. Hefner and see what's up there," Livingston said.
Fifth-grader Ryan Enochs already has a feature called "Guess This Photo" where he takes a photo of some place in the school and then students try to guess what the photo is of.
Hefner likes that the students work on their writing and practice teamwork and collaboration. Most of all, she likes how working on the paper furthers the connection between students and their school.
"I also see it as a big culture builder in that they're writing about themselves and they're writing about the work we do at Hollywood," Hefner said.