During the mayoral campaign Natalie Maynard watched the news every day, kept a scrapbook as if of a rock star, and became one of candidate Toni Harp’s biggest fans.
When the second-grader joined the staff of New Haven’s newest newspaper, The East Rock Record, as a reporter she still had some tough questions for the city’s new chief exec. Like: Why can’t the school day go as long as her parents’ working day?
Bygones were bygones as reporter Maynard and Mayor Harp said hello at the Thursday afternoon publication party for the first issue of The East Rock Record, the school system’s only K-8 student-written newspaper.
About 35 kids participate, with the help of six Yale University mentors, staffers of the Yale Daily News, a handful of city high schoolers, and the general supervision of veteran journalist Laura Pappano.
Across town last year Pappano helped launch the Celentano Sentinel, also with the backing of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
At Thursday’s mini-gala, the Record>‘s reporters, wearing proper press ID, greeted guests helpfully and congenially.
With hard-hitting stories on school recess, uniforms, community gardens, and why Spanish is the only foreign language taught at the school, the crisply printed issues of the packed 20-pager were passed around and read Thursday.
The papers shared pride of place with plates of grapes, a big cake, and in a general a goodies-filled party for the 35 staffers, their families, and even some targets of the youthful new journalists. Like Mayor Harp, who stopped by.
Fifth-graders Giancarlo Ocasio and Aboubacar Kourouma, whose family speaks Mandingo at home, got interested in why Spanish is the only foreign language offered at their school when other schools offer French, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, and Latin.
The intrepid reporters (pictured) interviewed Jessica Haxhi, the school system’s new supervisor for foreign languages. Haxhi said she did not know why the school doesn’t offer more languages. Through their mentor they pushed doggedly on and reached the previous supervisor. They also asked Superintendent Garth Harries for an explanation when he appeared at the East Rock Record’s press room.
“We got clues. We followed [them] until we got, boom! The final answer,” said Aboubacar. That was, of course, money. The budget.
Aboubacar said he doesn’t consider the reason fair. Spanish-speaking kids “can ace” those classes, he said. That point, but not the pique, got into his even-toned piece.
The subjects for articles come up in brainstorming sessions —including the old reliables like “School lunch struggles to please palate.” Then the news pieces are group-written, with the help of the mentors, said Pappano.
The opinion pieces and the arts—including Natalie’s book review, “A Funny Cat Never Gets Old”—are all individually written by the kids with maybe spelling help for the little ones.
The kids’ take on the new law requiring recess but only for K-6 elicited a headline—“Every day recess is only for some”—that might lead us to believe future issues will involve more serious confrontation with the powers that be.
That piece, written by Ashley Cardenas, Antonio Mooring, Miles Little, and Kysean Kellman, quotes Mayor Harp saying she would like all kids to have 15 minutes a day of recess, twice a day.
The reporters also sought out the superintendent’s opinion: “Mr. Harries also said that he needs breaks, too. ‘I still like to run around,’ he said.”
Could this be the beginning of a crusade?
Maybe. Mayor Harp pronounced the enterprise a “great teaching tool for kids to think critically.” She said that as a school child herself she learned to write through journalism.
The next issue is scheduled to come out May 29.
Pappano said the first issue’s print run was 3,500. Copies are available at the main branch public library, Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop, City Hall, Hill Health Center, and The Study at Yale.