A welcome trip away from the computer

It was great to be back in school again last week.

A week ago, I visited a group of fourth-grade students in Gretchen Rea’s class at Besser Elementary School as part of a Newspapers in Education presentation.

Matt Duthler, Carrie Burr, and the good folks at Northland Area Federal Credit Union made a nice contribution to the newspaper’s NIE program, which helps to fund the newspapers heading to classes like the Besser fourth-graders.

We met in the Besser classroom to view the students using the newspaper as part of their learning experience.

I always enjoy seeing the enthusiasm of students at that age. Their energy and excitement levels always are “off the chart” when visitors like us stop by and break-up the daily routine of the classroom.

What particularly excited me about that visit, however, was how Rea had incorporated the newspaper into her teaching lessons. Over the years, I have visited a lot of classrooms making use of NIE newspapers, but I believe this classroom was the best I’ve seen.

First, naturally, the students use the newspaper to keep up with current events. That is a wonderful benefit of the newspaper in classrooms, and Rea’s class is no different.

But then she goes a lot of other directions with students.

For instance, on the day we visited (a Friday), the students had our color comics section they were working with, doing a compare/contrast lesson with characters from the comic strips. As the students read the comic strips, they picked out a character that they could identify with, then compared themselves to that character. The students were having a blast with the assignment.

Later, to help students become more fluent in reading, the class would read aloud the dialogue in the comics with expression and personality, making little theater vignettes of the comics.

The students also go on scavenger hunts through the newspaper, looking for certain words, or items, such as a map or an advertisement, or the name of a city, state or country.

In the past, they have worked on sports glossaries, put together their own captions to photographs, searched for specific punctuation marks or maybe sought out a noun or a verb in a news story.

All too often, my days are spent reading way too many news reports, analyzing financial numbers, or trying to develop ways to improve our product. I spend more time than I care to admit staring at a computer screen and hammering on the keyboard keys, many of which, by now, no longer have letters visible from the constant use they see each day.

That is why I enjoy days like last week so much.

The students had lots of questions, were excited by the newspapers they received, and were appreciative of the sponsors who, along with the newspaper, make the program possible.

I don’t know how many of those students will eventually turn out to be newspaper readers later in life, but I know this … the foundation is being laid through the newspaper and the inspiration of teachers like Rea, to make these students informed and knowledgeable about the world around them.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the NIE program is so rewarding.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.