Finding our replacements

When we’re ready to move on, these graduating West Elementary students are ready to move in

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 5/30/24


If our team here at The News were looking to move on to other endeavors, we wouldn’t have to look far to find our replacements. Just seven miles down the road, four students at …

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Finding our replacements

When we’re ready to move on, these graduating West Elementary students are ready to move in



If our team here at The News were looking to move on to other endeavors, we wouldn’t have to look far to find our replacements. Just seven miles down the road, four students at Mid-Prairie’s West Elementary are already producing a rival newspaper. They’ve built a cohesive team, their print product looks great, and issues of their weekly are in high demand. They could move into our office tomorrow.

We’ve visited each other’s workplaces. On Monday, May 6, Maxon, Mereda, and Ezana of Hawks News welcomed Cheryl and TJ of The News to their school. On Thursday, May 16, The News returned the favor, and the three student-journalists were joined by Calvin, their de facto founding editor, who had been at a writing conference the day of our visit. The four fourth graders toured The News’s office and met more of the staff, Colette, Morgan, and Ron.

When we visited West Elementary, the students were preparing their final three issues of the year. They were excited about moving on to the Middle School in Kalona in the fall, but that left a lot uncertain about their newspaper careers. Would their new principal allow them to put out a newspaper? Would they have time to work on it? Would they even see each other over there, given their bus and class schedules?

And then there was the matter of the Hawks News that they had such a hand in creating. Who would keep it going? Whose job was it to select a new team? Could their names stay on the masthead, since they were its founding team, forever?

When they walk away from their creation, what they are going to most cherish and remember is their origin story, they told us.

“How it got started in Library class,” Maxon says.

“Yeah, now everyone in the school knows about it,” Mereda agrees.

West Elementary’s computer science teacher had been producing school news. Each class signed up to work on it, and it covered upcoming events, news, weather, jokes, and the lunch menu. But after 12 weeks, the class was over, and thus the school news ended.

But the students still needed the information, something Calvin recognized.

In Library class, the students were writing their own books, which were then made available in the library for other students to read. The books were hugely popular.

“I wanted to write a book,” Maxon says, “and then Calvin comes up and says, ‘Hey, do you want to do a newspaper?’ I’m like, ‘Sure.’ And then we kind of just worked from there.”

“And then I went up to you guys, and I’m like, ‘What are you guys doing?’” Ezana recounts.

“We told him,” Maxon says. “He’s really good friends with me and Calvin, so he joined.”

One day Mereda saw the trio writing at a back table. “I want to make posters for you,” she said.

“I did the posters, and then when I finished with that, I got kind of bored because we just kept them up,” she says. Then she switched from Hawks News promoter to full-time staffer.

Since getting started, each member of the team has taken on their own role. Maxon enjoys writing, Mereda takes care of the weather forecast, and Ezana creates memes. Calvin writes, edits, and conducts a lot of the interviews.

The students say they work well together, but like at any workplace, sometimes there’s a little drama. There was that time Calvin almost left, for example.

“He just got a little bored of it, but it’s fine,” Maxon says. “It was just a couple days.”

And like at any newspaper, they face challenges, like finding new ways to keep their readers engaged.

“We like to kind of change it up, because if people are just going to read the same thing every time, it’s gonna get boring,” Maxon explains. “You also want them to interact with it.”

To this end, they have encouraged student participation. For example, a checkers club formed at the school, and they started a competition bracket. The Hawks News crew promoted it through their newspaper. The newspaper also sponsored a drawing competition, which ended up with over 100 drawings lining the hallway, which students then voted on.

They also work hard to interview a variety of people at the school, starting with those who are new to it, for stories. They ask four or five questions, and they type their subjects’ responses into their iPads as they go. But not everyone is easy to interview for a story.

“I do make it sound more interesting,” Maxon says. “So, I ask them a question. They say, ‘Sports.’ I try to get more detail than just, ‘Sports.’”

But the experience has been worth it. The quad feels like celebrities; students mob them for newspapers on Monday mornings, and the demand on them to conduct interviews and write stories is higher than they can meet. They love the status and attention their jobs confer on them.

And they’re eager to do even better. When they visited The News office, Maxon, Mereda, Ezana, and Calvin wanted tips on how to edit photographs and conduct insightful interviews. They took notes as Morgan, our graphic designer, shared tools and sources for layout and graphics. They were curious about the role of advertising in a newspaper.

And Calvin, well, Calvin asked the reporters some tough questions.

“So if there was a big news story or something really important that happened, would you guys come in the middle of the night? Are you that devoted to The News, would you come in the middle of the night to work?” he asked.

Hmm, well, you know. . .

Then he asked the administrative staff some tough questions.

“So if all the reporters were gone and you couldn’t’ find anyone on the street if something big were to happen, and you were the only one here, would you guys grab a camera and do it yourself?”

Hmm, well, you see. . .

Cheryl turned the questions back on them. “When you guys get older, do you think that would be fun, to chase stories at all hours?” she asked.

“Yeah! Yeah!” Calvin said.

And that is why, when we are ready to hang this newspaper game up, we will boldly go. Because right now, graduating from West Elementary, is a group of students who can do our jobs.

The News would be lucky to have them.

Mid-Prairie West Elementary, Wellman, Iowa, Hawks News, student newspaper