Have you written about the supernatural?
Do you use grammar checkers when you type?
Sometimes, news puts out fake stuff. Do you respond to it?
About 80 fifth-graders visited the Tulsa World last week. They had good questions and also shared some of what they’ve learned, lessons that could prove useful to anyone.
The group was from Tulsa Public Schools’ Eisenhower International School, and they peppered tour guide and Deputy Managing Editor Jason Collington with good questions. (Answers: No, Jason hasn’t written about the supernatural. Yes, we have spell checkers on our computers and grammar checkers known as editors. No, we don’t respond to fake news — or report it, either.)
While sitting safely to the side, I learned that Eisenhower fifth-graders are sharp. This is an “immersion school,” a place where the youngest elementary students spend almost all day learning in a foreign language (French or Spanish). By the middle of second grade, English is introduced into the curriculum, and that’s gradually increased as students get older.
So, when Eisenhower’s fourth- and fifth-graders produce a newspaper each year — The Globe — it’s published in all three languages. (I can easily read the English version.)
I spoke with several students and learned they’re discovering how journalists can make a difference in people’s lives.
The students “do such a good job,” said Holly Wall, a name you may recognize from her many years as a local journalist. Wall volunteers as a coordinator for Eisenhower’s annual newspaper. (I want to thank her publicly, because she’s obviously making a difference with these students.)
Last year, one of Eisenhower’s students accompanied his parents to the state Capitol during the teacher walkout. He met with lawmakers, teachers and protesters, witnessing an important moment in our state’s history. Then he wrote a story, said Wall, who is a nurse at Saint Francis but continues to write for local publications.
“He did a really good job,” said Wall, who praised the entire group’s work producing the paper. “I’m so proud of them. They take a lot of responsibility for it.”
This year, students are tackling several stories, including their foreign exchange program. I met a few who have worked for The Globe, and they’ve learned valuable life lessons that go beyond reporting, writing and editing.
One student told me she discovered the importance of teamwork. Many different people have to come together to make this happen.
Another student mentioned the challenge of interviews. He wants to ask good questions but knows the answers must be reported accurately. The solution: One person asks questions and another person types answers, he said. (I resisted the urge to shout AMEN!!) Their understanding of credibility, the foundation of any quality publication, was impressive.
One of the lessons Wall wants to deliver is recognizing the difference between news and opinion. That challenge — for fifth-graders or anyone else — is more difficult than ever in today’s social media-flooded world.
The Globe has opinion pieces. This year, the students will tackle this issue: We want more recess time.
Wall says she challenges students to provide well-researched information to support their opinion.
That advice has proven effective through the years. Our Executive Editor, Susan Ellerbach, once was part of a sixth-grade newspaper team that successfully convinced school administrators to change the dress code. Girls would no longer be limited to skirts. Pants also would be allowed.
Eisenhower’s students came to the Tulsa World about two weeks after a group of Russian journalists were here. I enjoyed meeting the Russian contingent and left the conversation feeling blessed for the First Amendment. We often take it for granted, but it serves as a foundation for democracy.
So, when I see an impressive group of fifth-graders who are learning something that can be so valuable, it wasn’t just fun. It was encouraging.