Julie Taxis, a third-grade teacher at Plano’s Centennial Grade School, was surprised when four students told her last fall that they wanted to start a school newspaper.
The four are Baya Butcher, Kiana Mayh, Landen Sweigart and Genesis Arzola.
Taxis said she asked their principal Mike Zeman about the idea and he liked it, so she began working with the students, giving them encouragement as they went along.
“I knew they could do it when they asked to write a newspaper, but I was surprised they stuck with it,” Taxis said.
She gave the students ideas about topics for articles that could be featured in each month’s publication.
“Their first issue, February, featured Kiana’s story on African American History Month, one by Genesis on the history of the Olympics, Landen’s story on President’s Day and one by Baya on Kindness and Love. In the second edition, we discussed interviewing students so that they could be part of the paper, too,” she said.
They added a book-of-the-month section to the paper and interviewed a second-grader on her favorite book. In addition, they interviewed a third-grader on ways to help the environment.
Other stories for this edition include one on National Nurses Day and another on Lucky Penny Day.
Inside were information notices on math games to be held at Centennial School for Math and Science Night and a notice of a Daddy Daughter Dance set for Plano High School.
This latest issue and their last one for the class has Baya’s story on Mother’s Day, Kiana’s story on Memorial Day, Landen’s story on National Star Wars Day and Genesis’ story on Cinco de Mayo.
For their current issue, to come up with story ideas, each student picked a holiday or celebration and learned about it and wrote about it. And every article includes a photo or drawing to help show what the story is about.
“Most of my feedback for them included: do a little more research, read over your drafts to make sure they are complete thoughts, check for spelling, capitalization and punctuation mistakes. They were very receptive to my ideas and suggestions,” Taxis said.
“They never once looked at it as work. They were always very enthusiastic about it and would ask to work on it when they finished their class work. This was a lot of extra work in addition to their required assignments,” Taxis said.
In fact, one of the students said they often stay inside to work on the paper while other students are outside.
“I love their desire to go beyond what is expected of them. It makes my heart full,” Taxis added.
She noted that only four of the students in the class wanted to work on the paper – that is until they saw its success and the fun the students were having. Taxis said they are all great writers, but still need to be reminded of mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation. She said she points out their errors but if there are only a few minor ones and they are on a deadline, she lets them go.
Working on the newspaper will help them in their future studies, she said.
“Through their research they’ve had the opportunity to read more in depth about certain topics, covering a range of subjects, and I hope they will continue to do so in the future. In addition, it has helped them learn the importance of proofreading their work, which helps in grammar, writing and spelling,” she said.
Some of the students even work on the paper at home so they can be sure there are no errors. And they all do their writing on a computer “because some of us like me, aren’t neat writers,” Landen said.
“We have separate computers so we can work on separate stories,” one of the children said.
A couple of them said they know how to write cursive, but don’t use it. When asked what was most important for writers, one said it was to work together as a team and another student said it is to not make any errors.
They were all familiar with the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why – and the H for How in good writing. And all said they practice and apply it to their stories. They already know that their writing has to be concise to save space for the other writers’ stories. All four said they would like to become writers or reporters for a living.
Taxis said she hopes her next class will continue with the paper. So to encourage them, she plans to have this class make a video of themselves working on the paper that that she can show them.
Because Centennial is only for grades two and three, next year these four young journalists will attend a different school, so they’ll have to start over. But all four are looking forward to talking to their new teacher and principal about it.
Taxis admitted this also was a learning experience for her.
“I learned that age really is just a number and that we should not put limits or presumptions of what kids are capable of. Give them the opportunity to explore their interests, and they just might surprise you,” Taxis said.