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It's Our Turn: Students take to assignment

Echo Press sports reporter Jared Rubado works with Garfield students. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)1 / 2
Echo Press News Editor Al Edenloff helps fourth graders Morgan Gullickson and Lylah Radach revise their article. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)2 / 2

For several years now, the Echo Press has worked with area students to produce a section in connection with the Newspapers in Education program. The best part of it is getting young people involved in what we do, from designing advertisements to writing stories and taking photographs.

Here in our offices, we all do variations of that day in and day out, and after a while it all becomes second nature to us. We're probably not the only ones who downplay what we do.

But when you get in a classroom with students who have no experience in reporting or photography or as a graphic artist, it can open your eyes to everything that goes into these jobs, things you can take for granted.

There is nothing quite like seeing things through the eyes of kids.

This year, we got the opportunity to work with students in third and fourth grades, thanks to the graciousness of teachers Greg Toivonen and Abby Furth at Garfield Elementary School. They opened their classrooms to myself and graphic artist Christine Jacobson last month, as we prepared to make them reporters and artists.

What were you doing in third grade? For me, it certainly wasn't anything approaching what they can do. As a third grader, Toivonen distinctly recalls looking up information in the nonfiction section of the library, in World Book Encyclopedias.

"Having information at your fingertips has opened up doors to these kids in a hurry," he said. "It's fun to see how quick they are able to catch on to learning new skills and tasks."

While they may not be as accustomed to printed products as we were at that age — when passing around samples of other newspaper sections students have produced, it was surprising to see some fumble with how to open a folded newspaper — they are much more advanced in many ways.

Technology, for one. Each generation takes to the technology it grows up with, and the ease with which they navigate electronic devices, such as the Chromebooks they use for school, is something to behold.

"When you ask the kids, 'Can you find this website for Elden's Fresh Foods?' they are so technology proficient they can do it just like that," Toivonen said. "Sometimes the spelling might hang them up, but to find a picture, to find information, copying and pasting, 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds are able to do it just as fast as I can."

Furth said they learned additional technology skills through this assignment.

"They've also learned how to find information by conducting interviews and asking questions. Asking the right questions was definitely a learning curve," she said, noting she saw huge improvement in the work of her fourth graders in the short time they spent on the project. Furth was also impressed with their independence and the responsibility they took on.

"They learned the writing process is exactly that, it's a process, starting with a draft and going through revising and editing," Toivonen said. Most students worked with a partner, and that was good preparation, too.

"I heard a lot of 'we, we, we,' which fosters a work ethic they're going to see in their future," he said, pointing out that in many jobs they will find themselves working as part of a team.

There is nothing that compares with the enthusiasm kids bring, and it was plain to see on their faces. When we brainstormed for story subjects, the ideas were flowing fast from all corners of the room.

"The kids have been very excited, and it puts the skills we've been working with, reading and writing, in a real-life sense," Furth said. "They are excited to hear the ads they created are actually being sold, and the stories they have written will be read by the community."

Toivonen, or Mr. T as his students call him, observed the same thing.

"The kids have totally gotten into the process of this is how you work through a newspaper article. Even when we write in school, we are revising and processing and editing. It is real similar to what you do in the newspaper," he said.

Check out our four-page C section today, and remember that it all was created by kids in just third and fourth grades.

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