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Column - Newspapers make a difference

Throughout the school year I am fortunate to have the opportunity to go into area classrooms and teach students about newspapers through Newspapers in Education (NIE), an international program that promotes children's literacy by using newspapers as teaching tools.

The program strives to help students learn and develop strong reading and critical thinking skills and to become informed, involved citizens.

Because I am passionate about literacy and because I believe strongly in the importance of people being connected to, knowledgeable about and involved in their community, I am passionate about this program.

NIE is a unique way for schools, businesses and newspapers to work in partnership in education. For years, the Echo Press has provided newspapers at no cost to area classrooms. This is done with the help of area businesses, donations and proceeds from the annual Strike Out Illiteracy Bowling Tournament held in September.

Currently, 351 copies of every issue are distributed to classrooms throughout Douglas County. To be honest, I have often wondered if those newspapers are actually being used as teaching tools, or if they are just piling up in a corner, collecting dust until they are recycled.

But every time I visit a classroom, I am assured that this is not the case. I am amazed at the many ways teachers are using newspapers to supplement their curriculum. Newspapers are being used to improve vocabulary and reading comprehension as well as to teach about fact and opinion, sentence structure, story structure, math, critical thinking skills, social studies, current events, business concepts, politics, and much more.

This week I conducted an NIE presentation to students in the District 206 Transition Tech program, a secondary special education program for students ages 18 to 21 with disabilities.

The mission of the community-based life skills program is to provide these students the opportunity to reach their full potential through specialized instruction. The program offers a functional and vocational curriculum, striving to teach the students the skills necessary for independence within the community.

Transition Tech is held in an apartment setting in Alexandria. Participants learn vocational skills, home living skills, community participation and more.

I wrote an article about the program when it first started in District 206 about 12 years ago. I was impressed then, and was even more impressed during my return visit this week.

This program is fantastic, and the students who are part of it seem to be thriving. What I saw during my visit were eager, enthusiastic, informed, engaged, hard-working young adults who are a vibrant part of this community. Many of them have jobs, and were coming and going from and to work during my visit.

As part of NIE, the Transition Tech program is provided with free copies of every issue of the Echo Press, and the students obviously look forward to, read and learn from these papers.

For some, the favorite section of the paper was the Sports section, and many proudly relayed to me all their personal athletic successes through the adapted bowling, gymnastics and swim teams and through the Special Olympics program. Many of these young athletes have been featured in the pages of the Echo Press.

Another told me her favorite section is the Classifieds. She likes reading about the homes for sale, and is dreaming of someday owning one of her own.

Another said she is watching the engagements because soon her sister's engagement announcement will be printed.

They told me how they use newspapers to improve their reading skills and to find out what's going on in the community.

To all of those who partner with the Echo Press through sponsorship, donations and participation in fundraising events to make the NIE program a reality, I can assure you that this program is making a difference for students in our area.

For more information about the Echo Press NIE program or to contribute to help place papers in even more classrooms throughout the county, contact Lynn Mounsdon at or (320) 763-3133.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211