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Special School District of St. Louis County
A New Way to Do News
Student Paper Teaches Skills, Inclusivity

The newspaper classroom at SSD’s Neuwoehner High School resembles that of most any other newsroom: Computers, cameras, deadline dates scribbled on a whiteboard, layout sketches for upcoming issues and people openly tossing questions and ideas around the room.

But despite the similarities, it only takes a short time to realize this isn’t the workroom for New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but a student-run newspaper.

“Some of us can’t do much work on the weekends,” co-editor student Jami Murphy said when discussing deadlines for the next issue of the NeuNews. “I have a lot of babysitting to do. I have a job in addition to everything else.”

“It’s tough setting up interviews while also having a tight academic schedule,” said student reporter Shea Marks.

Along with juggling the duties of being a teenager, the small but dedicated staff is learning how to manage everything that goes into producing a monthly newspaper.

“This class is never long enough,” co-sponsor teacher Stephanie Dillon said. “Sometimes there just aren’t enough minutes in the hour. But it teaches them about planning, which is something many students often struggle with.”

The pre-story preparation that goes into each article of the NeuNews may actually trump that of the Times or the Journal.

“In anything that we do there’s extra planning that has to go into it,” said co-sponsor Elizabeth Hutchcraft. “If our reporter is going to conduct an interview with students (who are non-verbal) that have communications devices, they know that their questions have to be submitted ahead of time so that they can be entered into their device.”

Along with interviewing students who may have unique challenges, all surveys conducted by the NeuNews staff are made accessible to each and every student in the school. For the November survey, students voted for their favorite class in school by placing a chip into a bag marked with each subject offered.

“Not all students can vote in the same way,” said Jami. “We want to make sure we can get everybody’s vote for the survey.”

With processes in place to serve their audience, it’s hard to believe that the NeuNews is just a few months old. The first issue went to students and staff in September, and it is already making an impact.

“The response has been incredibly positive,” Dillon said. “I’ve had staff stop me and say how professional it looks. Everyone seems to enjoy reading it.”

The newspaper class was the idea of Hutchcraft, who suggested Dillon teach the course. In the spring of 2013, Dillon proposed the class to Neuwoehner administrators and developed an official course proposal that included student participation in the paper’s reporting, writing, editing, photography and layout.

“Everybody shares in the work,” Dillon said. “Everyone writes, everyone takes photos, and students are always a part of the editing.”

The broad range of skills the students learn and practice in their newspaper class has also translated into improvements in other areas of learning. The student reporters have made strides in many areas.

“It used to be almost impossible to get these student to write much at all,” Hutchcraft said. “But now that they have this role of being on the newspaper staff, they are writing more than they ever have. And to see some of them going into classrooms and interviewing people — that would have never happened a year ago.”

“Students are taking what they learn in this class to other classes and applying it there,” Dillon said. “We want it to be something they’re interested in — something they love to do. It’s very exciting to watch on a daily basis.”
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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