When Glen Hills fourth grade teacher Amy Gearing put new assignments in her classroom's student centers recently, she didn't think twice about putting out the writing assignment that went along with a new story her class was reading, "Coyote School News," which was about a school newspaper.
The assignment asked the students to think about an event that had recently happened in their own school, to interview a classmate about the event, and to write a short newspaper article about the event.
What happened next was every teacher's dream: three of Gearing's students took the idea of creating a school newspaper and ran with it.
"There was just a little assignment going on that week and we wanted to do it and we decided to do it together," said Emily Durigan, referring to her friend, Elizabeth Cowart who had joined her at the center that day. "We decided to see if Julia [Deal] wanted to join in," said Durigan.
"You never know what they're going to jump on and they just went crazy with this," said Gearing.
The excitement for the assignment kicked into high gear that same day as the students left their classrooms and went to lunch.
"We brought a notebook to lunch and we said we wanted to start our own little newspaper," said Cowart.
Deal thought it was a great idea.
"It sounded fun," she said.
The girls did some investigating and found that there was not already an existing school newspaper at Glen Hills, and they decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to start one.
"We wanted people to know about stuff going on," said Cowart.
In October, the three reporters launched their first issue, just before Halloween. It included articles about a recent PBIS event that the students had participated in, as well as a report on the Halloween event held by the school. They also had a question and answer section called "Ask Me," Halloween safety tips, daily fortunes and activities to do when you are bored.
And with the addition of a new fashion reporter, Delanie Short, they now had a fashion column as well. Before the students knew it, a second newspaper edition started to take shape, and their staff kept growing.
"People really liked the idea of the school newspaper and they started asking for jobs. They wanted to participate too," said Cowart. "Anabella [Laviano] started a 'Yeah!' column," she said.
Laviano explained the idea she came up with for her "Yeah!" column.
"I asked people what they did during the week that they were proud of, and I'd write it in my notebook, take it home with me and type it up," she said.
Another student in the class, Caroline Thomas, took on the job of reporter also, and her first feature story was about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
The students featured events that took place across the district also, such as the Scotty McCreery Concert/Dance at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet and the theatrical presentation of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," at Cranston High School West, by reporting "on location" from the events.
"I got to go backstage with my dad because he helped work on the set, so I wrote about that," said Durigan, who sat with Cowart during the show itself, both girls taking notes in their newspaper notebooks throughout each act and scene.
They began looking for staff members to spotlight in their upcoming issues.
"We interviewed Mr. Ray [the school custodian] for the Spotlight Page," said Deal.
A second fashion reporter, Corinne Cifeli, joined the team.
"I'm the second fashion reporter and I do the 'Fashion Weekly' column. I write about new trends that are out. This week is about Winter Woolies that will keep you warm," said Cifeli.
Reporter Hannah Bagshaw wrote a story about the top 10 Christmas toys for her first feature.
And still, the original group was writing away.
"We write during every free time. We bring our notebooks to lunch. We type after pre-session and during recess or during our extra time at library," said Durigan.
Cowart noted that everyone does his or her part after hours also.
"We all bring a few pages home to type," she said. "Sometimes we get together at each other's houses and work at home together."
As the newspaper staff began to grow, Gearing's wheels started turning.
"I'm going to open the paper up to the whole class and use it as a writing assignment," she said. "There are a lot of people who are interested in joining in."
Many of the other faculty and staff members got word of the paper's inception and were excited to hear about the latest additions to the staff and each upcoming edition of the paper.
Third grade teacher Lisa Davis offered to copy the newspaper for the student reporters so that they could each have their own copy, since up to that point they were all taking turns with one copy.
"I was copying it and I was shocked how long it was and how much they'd all written," she said. "These are the kinds of student role models you want. They thought of it, they took initiative and they did it on their own," she said.
Teacher assistant Jean Michaels said she always looks forward to hearing updates from the students as to how their newspaper is progressing.
"I was always so excited to see their next issue, and they put them out so fast, with so much in them," she said.
As the group grows, the original crew is looking forward to being able to put their newspapers out faster and with more original content in them. They are also hoping to expand its circulation, with possible distribution of copies to other classrooms.
"At this pace we've written so much and we have so many teachers supporting us," said Durigan.
"We have so many joining in. We're getting a lot faster. It's so much easier with more people," she said. "We can't believe how big it's gotten and we're excited about what will happen next."