A new generation of potential journalists, writers and bloggers are honing their craft each month as they produce an eight-page color student newspaper called The Blurb at St. Rose of Lima Academy in Short Hills.
About 17 students attend the paper’s monthly meetings after the school day in the academy’s library to plot out the next issue or work on their story assignments.
Recent issues have featured stories on the annual Christmas concert and winter dance, a visit to campus from a toad, family New Year traditions, profiles on students volunteering in the community and the academy’s boys and girls basketball teams, nicknamed “The Ravens.”
Readers have also been entertained by some unusual details about their teachers and administrators –from the fact that teacher Karen Dilly likes riding her horse Monty in her free time to the photo of Principal Diane Pollak dressed as the witch from Snow White during the Maplewood Halloween Parade.
The paper is produced by fifth through eighth graders, and while two parent volunteers with journalism experience have guided the students through the first few issues of the school year, the students took the reins for the issue currently under production, due out in March. Eighth grader Emily Dufner, from Short Hills, has been filling the role of editor for the upcoming issue.
“Our idea was to make The Blurb an extracurricular activity with real educational punch to complement the curriculum,” said parent Nicole Warganz of Maplewood, one of the parent volunteers who oversees the paper with volunteer Laura Rowley, a St. Rose parishioner from Maplewood. “Being a timely news source is one goal, but secondary to giving the students practice with interviewing, research, analysis, time management and writing.”
“We want them to set high standards for themselves and become accustomed to revising their work, so Laura and I edit everything,” said Warganz, a former editor and copy editor at Mademoiselle. Her work there involved tracking and approving every bit of copy through all stages including page proofs – “excellent training for running a school newspaper,” she said.
The March issue is completely in the hands of the students, aged 11 to 15. “The students have complete control and responsibility for all aspects of the issue,” Warganz said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to show what they’ve learned.”
Students find their experience on The Blurb rewarding on multiple levels. “It’s rewarding to see your name in the paper and know that you wrote the story everybody is reading,” said seventh grader Caleigh Wozniak of Maplewood.
Working on The Blurb “has helped me become a better writer and contributed to my time management skills,” said sixth grader Blair Boyle of Springfield. “Time management and writing skills are a big part of high school and will help me with every step of my life.”
Sixth grader Xavier Warganz of Maplewood also saw the value working on the paper has for high school preparation. “I’ve learned to use more descriptive words,” he said, “and I think it will help me write my applications to high school and college.”
Though rewarding, the students have also found putting out a real newspaper challenging. “The hardest thing is editing the article because you have to make sure you don’t use repetitive phrases or spell someone’s name wrong,” said seventh grader Nina Profaci of Maplewood.
Xavier Warganz said that “interviewing people is the hardest because they usually don’t give good answers.”
Eighth grader Emily Dufner of Short Hills said “the hardest part for me has not been interviewing, writing or editing, but getting the story together.
“It takes a lot of work,” Dufner said. “You need to set up an interview, know when and where to get pictures for your story, know how long you can write the story, and research any information you need.”
Covering events has exposed the student-reporters to many experiences they might not otherwise have had. “My favorite story was the one on ‘Cookies for Charity,’” said Profaci. “St. Rose students made batches of cookies for people in a soup kitchen. I made a batch of sugar cookies and went to the soup kitchen and watched as the people took them with a smile on their faces. It made me feel really good.”
Dufner said she has had fun working with the other eighth grade student-editors on an advice column. “We get to collaborate and share our ideas,” she said.
Nicole Warganz has overseen the paper with Laura Rowley, a St. Rose parishoner who writes the weekly Money and Happiness column for Yahoo!Finance, based on her book, Money & Happiness: A Guide to Living the Good Life. She is the author of four business histories, including On Target: How the World’s Hottest Retailer Hit a Bulls-eye. Rowley is a former on air reporter and producer for CNN Business News in New York, and was the personal finance expert for Self magazine for five years.