King’s Academy, November 7, 2016 – The first issue of the Middle School newspaper Wasat, which translates to ‘middle’ in Arabic, is giving a voice to grade 7 and 8 students at King’s Academy. As the school’s first cohort of Middle Schoolers, they feel that they have a lot to live up to. Not least in response to the much debated article “Does King’s need a Middle School?” published last year in The Rexonian, the Upper School newspaper.
Wasat is currently being produced by five students taking Publications as an afterschool Engage activity: Aman Serhan ’22, Angelina Abuhilal ’22, Yazan Alrayyes ’21, Abdulhadi Al Bustanji ’21, and Rakan Qawas ’22. Engage is the Middle School’s answer to co-curriculars.
According to English teacher Eric Hansen, who is leading the activity, Publications aims to extend the writing skills that students practice in English class by providing an authentic topic and purpose. It also aims to foster a culture of literacy in the Middle School, where students are reading and writing all the time, not just for assignments.
“I think it would be great if every 7th grader came to the newspaper for at least one Engage term. This authentic, real world writing teaches and enforces grammar better than any workbook ever could,” said Hansen. “When it is an article that you know all the teachers and students are going to see, it matters.”
Publications will produce the newspaper on a monthly basis throughout the fall and winter terms. In the spring term, it will change gears and issue a literary magazine using material that students produce in English class, and that all Middle School students can contribute to.
The newspaper aims to strike a balance between tackling real issues, some fun and some serious, while giving students a reason to read the newspaper. The students decide on topics that they think their peers would find interesting. This has resulted in some unusual ideas for the paper, but Hansen is impressed with his students.
The activity is ideal for students looking for a creative outlet and who love writing. Students learn to investigate stories, conduct interviews and take photos. They also learn that they have a responsibility as journalists to tell the truth, not to manipulate the information they receive just to get the story they want, nor to interject their opinion into an article.
The students prepared for the first issue by practicing essential journalistic skills. They spent time reading articles, breaking down the structure, and working on leads. They learned the difference between facts and opinion, and interviewing techniques. The group brainstormed ideas together, listed them and then assigned articles to everybody. They also used an old-school method, known as paste-up, of putting together the newspaper.
In the first issue of Wasat, the newspaper takes on some complex issues such as whether the open cubby system is a symbol of trust or a disaster waiting to happen, if video games are a waste of time, and if the school’s flexible furniture is too fun for deep learning. Other articles are more entertaining, such as the story of a woman who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, upcoming movies and book reviews, an eccentric comic strip and a fun, school-wide competition.
Although the five budding journalists embraced the different tasks required to produce the newspaper, they did face some challenges. Most daunting, they agreed, was approaching people for an interview.
“I was shy in the beginning, but with experience I’m gaining confidence and getting better at interviewing. We learned how to ask good questions, open and closed,” said Abuhilal. “We discovered how a simple question can lead to a great answer.”
Serhan agreed that you have to have confidence to interview someone. “You have to go out and be a bit nosy to get the information you need, and not get frustrated when people refuse to talk to you,” she said.
The young journalists also discovered another skill vital to getting a great story: persistence.
Al Bustanji is one student who quickly mastered the art of persistence and can often be seen chasing interviewees down the hallways until he gets his quote. “I learned never to give up,” he said. “I love to do investigative stories.”
Alrayess finds it challenging to talk to people who do not want to be interviewed, but relies on his recently learned interview skills. “I learned how to organize my thoughts to get good quotes, and then I keep asking follow up questions until I get one that I can use.”
Another challenge the students face is transforming the raw information they collect into a good article, as well as deciding what subjects are newsworthy and timely.
“You have to learn how to use all the different bits of information you gather in a way that makes sense, making good of all those notes and quotes. I’m slowing learning how to do that,” said Qawas.
To Hansen, the newspaper exemplifies what great middle schools do. “They create a structure, and within that structure is freedom to practice skills and choose their own topics. The students are making the newspaper writing their own. They are owning the structure of the newspaper. I just play referee every now and then,” he concluded.