Encouraging young writers and artists to produce an engaging and informational elementary school newspaper is the mission of the moms of Elepress. Lauren Devito, a graphic designer, and Christine Wilson, a corporate trainer, searched for a venue to allow their children to express creativity in a productive afterschool activity that incorporated their passions of drawing and writing. Inspired by their children, the duo approached the principal of Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES) with the idea of a school newspaper. Principal Deneise Hammond agreed, as long as the newspaper had a parent sponsor.
Devito and Wilson went to work developing a curriculum. They pitched the afterschool school newspaper idea to the RCES PTA and began advertising the program in September 2017. The initial investment for supplies, computers, etc., was large, but this paid off as enrollment in the four six-week sessions that first year filled up quickly. Parents pay the $200 per session tuition directly upon enrollment, and there is no cost to the school. The program runs from 3:40 to 5:45 p.m. weekly.
Energy in the afterschool newsroom is high. Kids come up with story ideas and pitch them to the group. Then student artists and writers together decide upon the content of each issue, and they collaboratively lay out each page.
Work begins in side-by-side classrooms as each group develops the stories with writing and illustration. Devito said it is sometimes challenging for students to work in groups. She initially was worried about peer review, but she holds a session on constructive criticism and has found that the students are able to critique without judgment.
The most recent issue of the Carson Courier featured stories on Rachel Carson, corporate logos, the World Cup, an extensive movie-themed comic—and what teachers would be doing over the summer.
One of the important facets of the program is leadership development. The editor-in-chief is a fourth grader and most of the writers are fifth graders. Each first grader enrolled in the program is paired with a fifth-grade mentor. “That was interesting to watch,” Devito recalled, “the gentleness of the fifth graders versus the inquisitiveness of the first graders!”
After the first newspaper session in 2017, tweaks were made in class size to better manage activities. The group also began designing spirit wear with the school logo, and a class in this may be added during the upcoming year.
Additional future plans include introducing a comic book club to produce a printed comic book. The artists are trying to get their styles to mesh without giving up their individuality, Devito said. New this year will be a digital version of the paper with only a small number of printed copies circulated.
Devito and Wilson are concentrating on developing a business plan for growing the program. They hope to present this to the PTAs of the cluster elementary schools and possibly to all of Montgomery County.
Elepress is currently advertising for part-time staff to assist with writing and facilitate production as they grow. “It is a process to get the paper to where it is printready,” Devito noted. They also plan to sell sponsorships.
For more information, contact Lauren Devito at email@example.com and visit the website at www.ele-press.com.