Getting an education from newspapers

MARSHALL – Like countless other young learners around the country, Marshall Middle School students have been experiencing the positive benefits of having local newspapers in their classroom, not only during National Newspapers in Education Week March 4-8, but for the entire school year.

Businesses, organizations and individuals typically contribute to the Newspapers in Education (NIE) campaign. Throughout the year, Marshall Independent subscribers may have spotted the box on the Home Delivery Notice that indicates support for NIE and Adult Literacy programs and wondered where that donation actually goes. According to Independent circulation staffers Julie Macht and Julie Michelson, subscriber donations make it possible to give teachers the tools they need to educate students about world events, geography, fine arts and communities issues as well. It’s an investment that people can feel good about because every dollar contributed gives another child some priceless knowledge, they said.

Currently, 10 copies of the Independent are delivered to MMS each day, Monday through Friday throughout the school year. While social studies teacher Justin Bouwman reportedly made the connections and started out getting the newspapers a few years back, Sandy Carpenter’s eighth-grade enrichment classes have been using the newspapers for the past two years.

“We work on social studies things, and current events are part of social studies,” Carpenter said. “With the newspapers, it’s going to cover politics, environmental issues and historical issues, so it works out well for us.”

On Tuesday, eighth-graders Brandon Groenewold, Mason Reese, Bradin Wyffels, Russell Monsen, Reese Winkelman, Zach Thompson, Chasee Boyd and Gavin Staudt dissected and began a discussion on two gun control articles in the Independent.

“I think newspapers are a good way to keep up on current events,” Wyffels said. “It keeps you better informed in the community, so you know what’s going on.”

Wyffels said he felt that gun control was a complex issue, and that he agreed with some of the components on both sides of the argument. Reese agreed, also noting that there appeared to be no clear-cut solution to the issue.

“I haven’t really went into it all that much, so it was new to me (Tuesday), but I thought it was kind of interesting,” Reese said. “It’s complicated. I think you just have to trust your representatives, that they’re going to make the right decisions.”

Staudt thought the material and discussion was challenging but highly engaging, which forces him to be a free thinker.

“It helps me process my thoughts and like, help with political sides,” he said. “I’m not really the political type, but I try to know what’s going on. But I really don’t think too much about it because I’m my own person, and I think differently than other people. I have my own thoughts.”

While reading newspapers provides a “boatload” of opportunities and benefits, Carpenter said, critical thinking and increasing comprehension are extremely important ones.

“The MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) language arts coming out is going to be predominantly non-fiction, critical thinking,” Carpenter said. “Reading these articles are non-fiction. They’re at a challenging level and require students to answer more than just yes or no questions.”

On Tuesday, Carpenter asked her students to compare similarities and differences between the Colorado and Minnesota articles, ultimately guiding them to understand the main reason Minnesota is struggling on the gun law. The students have to read and be able to come up with the fact that Democrats are split in their party, she said.

Perspectives often vary, Carpenter said, depending on things like geographic relevance, basically whether a person hunts or lives in an area known for hunting, or even personal experience with guns or violence. Someone who suffered the loss of a child in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may err on the side of caution in their stance, she said, while someone who works in the mental health sector would likely wince at the thought of unconstitutional restrictions for people seeking mental health treatment.

“What if it’s not if you get tested, but if you’ve ever sought mental health services?” Carpenter said. “If I talked to a counselor about deaths that occurred in my family or in my school, should I not be allowed to have a gun now?”

Carpenter also prompted the students to ponder other issues, like background checks and criminal statuses, asking them whether a public urination offense should be considered as “criminal” as an offense occurring with a weapon.

“It’s kind of a slippery slope,” she said.

Reading the newspaper introduces students to new words, potentially helping them build their vocabulary along with the comprehension.

“What we found is that the newspaper is probably college level, so the students are challenged for words,” Carpenter said. “When we read, we have to define words and talk about what we’re reading. Early in the year, we start out documenting the who, what, when, where and why because that forces them to participate.”

While the MMS students typically work with the newspapers every other day, during election time, Carpenter said, the resource is used every day.

“I want them to know there’s this whole big world out there,” Carpenter said. “About one-fourth of my students are probably going to vote in the next presidential election. I want them to have this whole background. I want them to remember what we read, to show that it does make a difference.”

Carpenter said she prefers to use newspapers in her classroom, as opposed to using CNN current events online like some of her colleagues do, especially since her eighth-grade social studies students are operating in a digital classroom this year. While she makes sure to accommodate students who prefer the hands-on aspect of newspapers and textbooks, Carpenter said she also lets the “techies” know that they can always go online as well.

But for some people, like Reese, there’s just no substitute for having print materials in your hands.

“Personally, I like paper over electronic things,” Reese said. “I prefer it. It makes it easier for me to learn. Even in social studies, which they changed to technology, I’ve always preferred the book in front of me. Sometimes, it’s just that with the computer, I’ll get a headache or something like that. But it’s just my personal preference.”