Photo by Danette M. Watt
Faculty adviser Richard Baird shows the newspaper’s staff the front page of the inaugural edition of the Jr. Redbird Word. Baird says he hopes to publish three more issues before the end of the school year.
ALTON — The first edition of the Jr. Redbird Word is scheduled to “hit the stands” the week of April 18 at Alton Middle School and pre-publication sales hit $10 the week before.
The 12-page paper brings to the school what newspapers typically do — articles on politics, governance, lifestyle, sports, reviews and comics. It contains interviews with school and district administrators and a retiring teacher, a feature on standout athlete LaJarvia Brown and a pro-con column on Taylor Swift.
Under the tutelage of faculty adviser Richard Baird, the 18 students on the paper’s staff did most of the work themselves, coming up with story ideas, conducting interviews and taking photos. Baird laid out the paper on his computer and it was printed by the school district.
Unlike Alton High School, there is no journalism class to teach reporting skills to students. Baird gets his staff for just 10 to 15 minutes at the start of the school day with the occasional after-school meeting, leaving students to do most of the work on their own and on their own time.
“They’re a good group of students, able to discern what needs to be done and work on their own,” Baird said.
Baird is passionate about newspapers. He wrote a local column and said he believes newspapers are the best way to present the news.
“There’s more detail,” Baird said. “They’re more thoughtful and reflective.”
He’s discussed with his students the way online media and broadcast news often take a “knee-jerk reaction” toward events and have a “be first, but not right” mentality.
“I’ve told them journalism is objective, not subjective,” he said. “You have to look at all aspects and perspectives and don’t get caught up in emotion.”
The Jr. Redbird Word is the culmination of months of work, beginning last November when Baird pitched the idea to Principal Dr. Steve Sandbothe, who gave it his blessing.
“He thought it was a neat way to unite the school’s three houses,” Baird said.
In December, Baird met with more than 50 students who showed up for an informational meeting in the library. Eventually, the staff was narrowed down to the current staff, all sixth- and seventh-graders.
Baird plans to publish three more issues before the end of the school year. Next year, he hopes to make it a monthly paper.
Sixth-grader Katrina Boyce is on the editorial board. She said she’s always loved writing and thought the paper would be a “great way to do more and have a fun experience. Mr. Baird is a really great mentor and wants us to do well.”
Katrina also enjoys drawing. She contributed a panel comic to the first edition, along with two interviews and an article about the presidential candidates and their platforms.
“I believe many staff members recognize significant events such as the presidential election, flooding and terrorism impact their lives beyond a classroom environment,” Baird wrote in an email. “In fact, they understand such events may determine key activities or outcomes in their adult lives.”
Gabe Hayes, a seventh-grader, isn’t as keen on talking to people and doing interviews.
“I’m pretty interested in photography but a lot of people want to do that,” he said. “So I’ll also be doing reviews on movies and TV shows.”
Sanbothe said he’s excited about the paper and acknowledged the time and effort Baird put into the paper.
“We have clubs, theater, but this is something different. Any time the kids are writing, that’s a good thing. They’re getting engaged.”