March 2019

Future of the Free Press: Safe in the hands of Bluffton fifth graders at Red Cedar Elementary School

Author: Laura Jacobi | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Coleman Jacobi and David Fisher

How did a teacher get stuck in the elevator? Which animals in Beaufort County are endangered? What instruments are instrumental in Foxes Jam? Why is a horseshoe considered lucky? Find these answers and more when you pick up a copy of The Red Cedar Gazette.

The next generation’s journalists are hard at work mastering their craft. The Red Cedar Gazette is in its eighth school year and currently has 13 fifth graders on staff.

As the story goes, not long after Red Cedar Elementary opened, during the 2009-2010 school year, some volunteers were approached about starting a student-written newspaper. According to the newspaper’s first head volunteer Janis Gatschet, The Gazette’s goal was to develop a staff of fifth-grade students who had shown proficiency or interest in writing and teach them some of the basics of how to write newspaper articles—but most important, give them one-on-one attention and a platform to organize their ideas and let their creativity blossom.

Grace Williams listens intently while interviewing the teacher who got stuck in the elevator.

Easier said than done. “It didn’t all come together at first,” Gatschet said.

When she and other volunteers gathered their first group of fifth graders and explained what they were planning, she remembers the kids looking up at her and freaking out. “You mean people will read what I write?” they asked. But once the students started generating story ideas, interviewing classmates and teachers and seeing the articles on which they worked so hard finally get printed, the fear of being published turned to excitement.

Over the past eight years, nearly 75 students have been on the school’s newspaper staff, and 30 issues have been published. The 2018-2019 staff includes 13 eager and inquisitive fifth graders. Red Cedar Elementary’s assistant principal Cynthia Laizer was The Gazette’s faculty advisor for its first seven years. She said one of Red Cedar’s hopes for any extra-curricular activity is to provide “the opportunity for kids to spend time doing what they love to do and learn through that experience.”

One of the current Gazette writers, 10-year-old Giadalyn Marshall, is a great example of that philosophy. “I have loved to write since I was little, and I love journaling,” she said. The newspaper has been a perfect fit for Marshall as it gives her another reason to talk with people, which she loves, and write about what they say.

Laizer said over the years, she has loved seeing the wheels turn as students develop their story ideas and see them come to life in the printed paper.

Back row: Mason Feaster, Coleman Jacobi, David Fisher, Hien Ta, Miley King, Abby Bolton, Grace Williams
Front row: Skylar Curilla, Kylie Fulda, Giadalyn Marshall, Perry Hesley, Delia DuBose, Alexander Spain

Gazette writer Alex Spain, 11, said he has enjoyed researching topics and then discussing them with his friends. He recently took his interest in space and turned it into an article about the history of space exploration and an insight of where, in space, students at Red Cedar Elementary would like to visit.

The current leader and acting “editor-in-chief” of the student publication is Pat Jackson, who has volunteered with The Gazette since it first “rolled off the press.” Jackson was a friend of Gatchet’s and thought volunteering at Red Cedar would be a good way to get involved with her community and tap into her creative side. Jackson and her fellow volunteers work with the students to develop their story ideas, craft their interview questions and edit their writing. Then, Jackson formats each edition of The Gazette for the school to print and distribute to students.

Jackson and other volunteers, Bonnie Caldwell, Ann Timashenka, and Caitlin Hoffman encourage students to have fun with their writing, but remember they are the voice of their fellow classmates, which is both an honor and responsibility.

“The most important thing we (as volunteers) hope is that the kids think about other students’ opinions and thoughts as they write,” Jackson said.

Gazette writer Grace Williams, 10, said she has enjoyed interviewing other students and teachers, learning about them and hearing their stories. Her favorite article she’s written so far is the one she’s currently working on about superstitions and what people believe to be lucky or unlucky.

Marshall said she has a better understanding of how important it is to be a newspaper writer, because other people read the articles they write and learn from them. “Being a Gazette staff writer makes me feel good inside,” she said.

Jackson also heads up Red Cedar Elementary’s literary magazine, Fox Tales. The bi-annual magazine gives students in kindergarten through fifth grade a platform to submit original artwork, stories, poems and essays. The magazines are professionally printed in a full-color format and passed out at the school. Volunteers lead monthly writing workshops for students who need a little help and encouragement. Hundreds of Red Cedar students have had their work published in Fox Tales since it began in the 2012-2013 school year.

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