The Freedom School News

By Katie Ziparo 

I knew going in to the Notre Dame AmeriCorps program in Watsonville, California, that one of the options available at my site would be to create an after-school program. But what? Luckily, the perfect opportunity presented itself. My supervisor had received a resume from a local resident of the nearby town, Santa Cruz. He had been involved in creating school newspapers before – and he was interested in doing the same at Freedom Elementary. I was absolutely enthralled because that was exactly something I was interested in doing, but had no idea how to attempt.

So I met Mr. A, as the kids call him, and we set out on how to make a school newspaper happen at Freedom. The first objective was to find kids who were interested. Freedom Elementary is a K-5 elementary school with about 600 students in attendance. Freedom is 99% Hispanic and 90% of the students attending qualify for the federal meal program. Many of the children are from migrant families who come to Watsonville to work the surrounding agricultural fields. Therefore, these students are English Language Learners – which means they don’t get much, if any, English at home. How, then, could we get these students interested to write, when many of them could not write in English? And could we get them interested in current events or involved in activities like interviews or research?

To my amazement, there were lots of students interested in our newly formed Newspaper Club – and it didn’t take much bribing at all! We had a group of about 20 fourth and fifth graders signed up to be newspaper employees. The paper would be called Freedom School News, and the class would come up with different assignments. From the very beginning it was amazing what these kids came up with. They were so much more creative than I had ever imagined and they were producing better ideas than either of us co-editors were.

Soon we had interviews with teachers and faculty – but also with Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We had practical advice for the common elementary school student – how to handle angry teachers or how to prepare for middle school. And we always found plenty of time for the holidays – we came out with Halloween stories, Veteran’s Day Info, a “Crazy Turkey Story,” Christmas songs, and holiday-themed word searches.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The kids would easily get discouraged at their own limitations. We provided sample questions and outlines for them to use as a guide and we did some work together as a class. But there was also just as much area for them to be free with; coming up with jokes or comics was all up to their own imaginations.

We had begun in early October and by December, we had folders and folders full of great work. The next challenge was editing and printing the paper. Once the school finished the second computer lab, we had the students type up their own work. Mr. A and I had worked out an end of December deadline, so we could get the first issue out right before everyone left for winter break. Mr. A worked his magic and managed to get the school district to print us 250 copies of our very first issue.

It’s been such a pleasure working with these students. Each class, I am so impressed with their creativity. They know that they created this paper out of thin air and with their own minds – and seeing them realize what they are capable of is truly a great reward from my year of service.

Reprinted with permission from the Notre Dame AmeriCorps “Human Kind” Spring 2008 newsletter.

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