Greenmont’s ‘JR. Gator News’ scribes know how to sink their teeth into story

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DRACUT — Friday is deadline day and the newsroom is buzzing with excitement. Reporters scurry around the room getting last-minute feedback from editors on their stories.

The children at Greenmont Elementary School take their work for the JR. Gator News, a quarterly publication produced entirely by students in kindergarten through fourth grade, very seriously.

Each week, the cub reporters pound the hallways of their beat in search of fresh and juicy stories. They need not look far. From the teachers lounge to a library makeover, no story goes untold.

“The students come up with all of their own story ideas,” said Diane McClure, editor of the JR. Gator News and paraprofessional at the school.

Fourth-grader Alex Corcoran is student co-editor this quarter. Discovering a knack for journalism a year ago when the project first began, Corcoran has returned each session to hone his writing skills and uncover hard-hitting stories at Greenmont like “What Really Goes on in the Teachers Lounge,” an investigative article he wrote with classmates and colleagues Michael Andersson, Emily Dobson and Chelsea Gavin for the May 2006 edition.

People no longer have to wonder about the conversations that happen behind the door to the teachers hideaway, thanks to Corcoran’s curiosity.

In the publication’s second year of production, McClure and co-editor and teachers aide Paula Cashin hope to continue the program indefinitely.

“We edit the stories, but we try to keep the character of a student project by avoiding having too much influence on content and wording,” said McClure.

When the newspaper project first began, McClure invited the entire school to participate, but when 180 students signed up, she and Cashin were forced to come up with a creative selection process.

“We decided to have the kids fill out a job application to join the program,” said Cashin.

Students completed an application as if they were actually applying for a position with a newspaper, and Cashin and McClure were able to narrow the group down to 30 students. Each quarter new students are given the opportunity to join the newspaper staff.

“It makes it a little harder because rather than working with one group throughout the year, we are having to retrain each quarter,” said McClure. “But it’s worth it to give them all a chance.”

Meeting each Friday over lunch break, the group gathers in the library to brainstorm story ideas and gain constructive criticism on story drafts.

Cashin reads the latest breaking story from reporter and third-grader Abbie Cutrumbes out loud. Cutrumbes wrote a lengthy feature giving readers a glimpse into the Greenmont School 50 years from now.

She begins with a colorful description of a classroom, detailing the latest technology in use and brings her readers on a journey through the corridors, ending in a futuristic gym class.

By the end of the reading, Cutrumbes has slumped deep down into her seat, shielding her face from her peers.

“She gets a little shy sometimes,” explained Cashin.

One of the great aspects of the program is that it builds confidence in the students as the quarter goes on, Cashin said. Students learn the value of constructive criticism by working closely with their classmates and teachers. Reading the final products provides the students with a sense of accomplishment and increases their self-esteem.

“One of our students wouldn’t say a word when we first started this quarter, now she’s talking up a storm and taking photos for the paper,” said McClure.

During recess, students set up interviews or get into groups to conduct interviews. Once the information is gathered, the writing process begins.

“The parents are just as excited about the finished product as the kids are,” said Cashin. “They always want copies so they can see their children’s byline.”

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at 978-970-4653 or by e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.