Of all things happening in NYC's public schools, student newspapers?
Here's how and why it started...
In 2016, when I first set out to become a public school teacher in New York City, I was asked, “why do you want to be a teacher?”
My answer was different but simple, “I want to be the answer to a student’s password recovery question ‘What is the name of your favorite teacher?’”
Although it may seem silly that I wanted to be among the answers to questions about favorite pets and maiden names...it has directed my teaching.
As the great Maya Angelou said a little more eloquently, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’m lucky to have a principal who is supportive and open-minded when it comes to the curriculum in each classroom. She likes to see unique and risk-taking approaches to teaching. And I have certainly been one that has taken her up on that approach.
Not every student is going to be a professor, which Sir Ken Robinson once said famously at a TED Talk is the goal of our current education system.
Not every student is going to be a researcher, or writer, or essayist, or policymaker needing to write long, drawn-out texts that match a prescribed format and rubric.
But, every student has a story and will have a story throughout their lives, and they need to be able to tell that. They need to be able to interpret the world around them in the way that makes sense to them.
My NYC Teaching Fellows On-Site Training Cohort
My mentor (middle) and colleague/friend (left)
My first mentor and student teaching class
My first ELA class as a teacher
Our storyboard to keep track of stories, timelines, and feedback
Our first issue
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke to my class about her experience with media
Our second issue
Actor and LGBTQ+ activist Tommy Dorfman spoke to my class about his experience with the media
In January 2019, three years into my teaching career with the scars from every start-up teacher's failures and mistakes, I met with my co-teacher and former teacher mentor.
"Let's make our next unit a student-run newspaper," I told her with excitement. Lucky for me, even after her 30+ years teaching, she still gets excited about new ideas and fully supports my (crazy) ideas.
"We can have the class create a newspaper to give out to all students in the school," I continued with her approval. "Imagine. We have an Editor in Chief, Associate Editor, and Section Editors to lead the class."
As she can attest, once I have a (crazy) idea, I start riffing for as long as I have ideas flowing. Some of which included:
We can have cartoonists!
We can Op-Ed pieces!
We can have students submit ideas!
We can have investigative stories!
We can bring in elected officials!
Let's just say, we were excited. Spoiler alert: we made all of it happen (minus Michelle...for now).
Upon implementation of the unit, our classroom turned into a newsroom overnight.
Students who rarely wrote, were writing.
Students who were typically unengaged, were pitching ideas.
Students who resisted speaking, were asking to go out for interviews.
Three weeks later, we published our first issue.
The cover story was an "investigative" piece about new, glass basketball backboards hiding in storage for multiple years. According to the students, it left students with old wooden backboards, which was detrimental to their game.
The Letter from the Editor:
Welcome to our inaugural issue! Our goal for this newspaper is to go big and grab your attention. We want to be known as the class and paper that informs the school community about what's happening. Not just in the school, but what's happening outside [the school].
We want the student body to be informed about the drippiest drip from Kylie Jenner to Zion Williamson taking the NCAA by storm. How our school athletic teams are taking off this season and playing to their full potential. We can’t talk about buzz without mentioning something about the endless war on hoodies by the Great [assistant principal].
As a news team, we hope to learn valuable lessons, not only how to report honest news, but how to work as a team. We want to learn better professional communication skills, come up with strategies and skills that are our own, and be able to use the lessons learned from this experience in the near and far future.
For the newspaper’s success, we need big commotion about something that has never been done in the school. We hope to receive the blessing and the approval moving forward of [school] administration. Our collaboration with administration and staff will only increase our confidence and improve our ability to report the best news.
Lastly, having this newspaper will be positive for everyone at the school. Students will want to read it, look forward to the next issue, and be able to catch them up on what’s happening in the world and school community. Thanks for reading!
With positive feedback from students, teachers, and administration, we decided to work on publishing a second issue.
The cover story a "breaking news" article about the winners of the Talent Show from the night before. The author of the story wrote an article frame and after the show, went home to input the new information from the night.
The Letter from the Editor:
We are happy to announce The Claw Weekly, the first and only [school] student run, reported, and read newspaper, skyrocketed the first few days of its release. We were shocked by the wave of positive feedback and rave reviews from everyone in the school community.
Reactions from teachers and staff, middle school and high school students, and administrators was thrilling, and we are humbled by your reception to our independent publication.
Teachers like [teacher name redacted] explained, “it's good for students to have a voice of their own and express it.”
“I’m proud of our students and for the articles they wrote and research they conducted,” praised Assistant Principal [name redacted]. “I look forward to reading the next issue.”
Middle School student [name redacted] echoed the praise. “I was very excited to read this newspaper. It was very intriguing. I believe that this school should have more freedom and having this newspaper is a voice for the students in this school.”
Men’s basketball coach and teacher, Mr. [name redacted] was caught pleasantly surprised, “to see individuals put effort into this newspaper, especially those on my team that don’t do homework.”
We are honored to be your voice. As a staff, we will continue to work our hardest to bring you the truth, and expand your mind beyond these walls. Each member of The Claw Weekly is committed to delivering fresh stories, original content, student-focused analysis, and honest opinion. Like Mr. [name redacted] perfectly said, we are “contributing to something bigger.”
After our second issue, I was informed by my principal to transform the class into a school newspaper class. She was thrilled by the buzz it was creating throughout the school, and the school spirit and pride being uplifted.
A week later, a school aide knocked on my classroom door to deliver me a new color printer stating, "[the principal] bought this for the newspaper so that all issues are printed in color."
Between January and June 2019, we successfully published 10 issues. The articles covered student athletes, graduating students, alumni, Mother's Day, Black History Month, with advertisements about student clubs and organizations.
In May 2019, my principal pulled me aside to share that she just came from the district meeting with our superintendent. She informed me that he asked what schools (out of a little over 40 schools in his district) have student newspapers, and my principal was the only one to raise her hand.
He praised her for the initiative and made a comment about schools needing to get onboard. After the meeting, he let her know that he would be visiting my school to observe classes, especially my newspaper class.
He came to the school and observed my newspaper, and congratulated my principal on a job well done. While in the classroom, he asked me about the organization of the students, the platform we use (which I proudly responded "Google Docs"), and the way in which we distribute the newspaper.
He went on to tell my students that we should have an app and website for our newspaper.
It was that day I realized something was missing in our public schools that has the opportunity and ability to transform our schools.
It was that day I realized a student-run newspaper isn't just about the newspaper but the voice it gives our students.
It was the day I realized a student-run newspaper needs to be in every NYC public school.
Former NY Post Reporter and Freelance Writer Andrew Nodell spoke about his career in journalism
Our third issue
Our seventh issue