Journalism students at Melissa Middle School have worked vigorously since August to deliver bi-weekly issues of the school’s first online student newspaper, The MMS Times. Today marks the release of the publication’s 10th issue.

The middle school journalism program, led by adviser Louise Hickey, is new this school year. It consists of two classes with a total of 24 students from seventh and eighth grades, all of whom have a role in curating the newspaper.

Melissa Middle School Principal Jim Miller said the decision to add journalism as an elective course was two-fold.

“Adding the journalism class offered students another option and opportunity to display their talents,” Miller said. “We wanted to establish a student publication outside the yearbook that would convey our school’s culture through the eyes of the student. Our high school administration greatly supported the addition, as it provides students with a foundation for journalism.”

Journalists in the making

Eighth grade student Brianne Finnell took on a leadership role this year as editor for The MMS Times. Finnell’s responsibilities include structuring each issue’s layout in addition to assigning, writing, and editing stories.

“I love to create and I love to write, so I thought journalism would be perfect for that,” Finnell said. “I also love to collect data, talk with people and report.”

Finnell has already signed up to take journalism next year as a freshman at Melissa High School.

Seventh grade student Chau Hua is a top news correspondent and op-ed writer for The MMS Times. Hua won two in-class op-ed contests, one of which was for a feature story that she wrote on art therapy – her personal favorite piece.

For Hua, journalism challenged her go-to creative writing tactics.

“I wanted to try something new and I wanted to elaborate my writing style,” Hua said. “I’m a descriptive writer, but writing an article is really different. It was hard at first, but I eventually adjusted.”

When asked to describe The MMS Times using one word, Finnell chose “reporting” and Hua chose “ethical.”

Bringing the newspaper to life

Melissa Middle School journalism class periods often begin with what Hickey calls an “Essential Question” serving as a 10-minute writing warm-up.

Students then dive into brainstorming and planning, surveying and interviewing, or writing and editing. Regular issues allow for two weeks of preparation, while the occasional special issue requires a four-day turnaround.

Hickey and her students use the Google Slides digital platform to build the newspaper’s layout, allowing everyone to work on the paper simultaneously from different computers, both in and out of school. The finished newspaper is posted online for students and the public to read.

“The online forum not only cuts paper cost, but it also tremendously increases readership,” Hickey said.

Students coordinate interviews with teachers and students, attend school events, and work with Hickey to strengthen their stories.

“The students have progressed in their knowledge of the interview process, news reporting, editing, layout, and photography,” Hickey said. “We are also reinforcing other basic rudiments of journalism, including how to write better headlines, cutlines, leads, and wrap-up statements.”

Looking ahead

Next year’s goals for the middle school journalism program include increasing readership within the community and incorporating broadcast media.

“The most important focus of the course is to reinforce the role that ethics play in journalism,” Hickey said.

Reflecting on The MMS Times, Miller noted that reading the first issue was one of his proudest moments as a principal.

“I was blown away by the quality of the newspaper and the persistence of the students,” Miller said. “They have taken ownership of The MMS Times, and their energy and eagerness to report and tell the story of our campus has been amazing. They are an unbelievable source of pride for our school.”

Issue 10 of The MMS Times is available now. Visit the MMS Times page to read all issues of the publication, and follow the district and school on Facebook and Twitter for future updates.