Quarantine productivity produces The 5th Grade Journal

Rotating leadership, peer and parental contributions are recipe for second issue

Daniel Kyte-Zabel and Daniel Gross-Loh

“Are you wondering what field trips we will go on in fifth grade? Do you want to know how long lunch is? Or how many recesses we get?”

Malik Shadid ’28 set out to answer these questions for his peers in the first issue of The 5th Grade Journal, a newspaper that four Lower School (LS) students composed this past summer. Isolated with ample free time, the editors and creators—Christian Chow, Anna Gross-Loh, Matthew Sorgini, and Malik (all ’28)—covered both newsworthy stories among fifth graders and broader topics of interest, ranging from black holes to the National Hockey League.

The idea had its roots last year when Christian, then in Grade 4, wrote and distributed weekly one-page newspapers covering sports trivia, science, and interviews with classmates.

“I was in library class and wrote a short paper on what was going on that week, [and] then someone recommended I keep up reporting, so I basically started writing a newsletter,” he said. “When COVID came around, I kind of stopped, [but] I started again in the summer.”

At the suggestion of his mother, who thought continuing this project would help him stay productive and social during quarantine, Christian approached a few friends about the idea of jointly running a newspaper.

“The more people we have, the more interesting it will be,” he said he told them.

For the first issue, released in late August, each student wrote news pieces that they termed “self articles”—articles whose subjects they chose, many about COVID’s various impacts—and one “journal” article about a place they feel a strong connection to.

The board members laid out the paper using InDesign, though for the second edition, scheduled to publish after Thanksgiving, they plan to switch to Arthr, a platform that helps create and print newspapers. Christian’s father, Ken Chow, printed it and mailed the issue to select teachers and each student in the grade, a cycle they hope to repeat monthly beginning with the next issue.

Matthew, who wrote his journal article about Lynn, MA, where his father grew up in an Italian American community, said he has enjoyed the freedom of journalistic writing.

“My favorite part is that I get to write about what I’m learning about for fun, not as a specific [assignment] for school. I have more than just a day to do it. I have one or two weeks,” Matthew said, adding that he hopes to continue journalism at the middle and high schools.

The writer of “School is back with a few changes,” a front-page article reporting on operational adjustments the LS was making due to the coronavirus, Anna said she has enjoyed collaborating with the board, which meets weekly to discuss plans presented by the editor-in-chief.

“It’s not just writing for a newspaper—it’s also working together and having fun,” Anna said. “It gives us a sense of independence that I feel privileged to have at my age.”

The group has established rotating leadership roles— editor-in-chief, opinion editors, and layout guide—a set meeting time, and strict due dates, the first issue having been delayed for four months because of summer vacation and COVID, Anna said.

Christian’s mother, Ellie Choi, who has helped edit and format the newspaper along with the other journalists’ parents, said the endeavor has been positive even though meeting deadlines has been difficult for the students, as they are already overscheduled with sports and extracurricular activities.

“We hope that the newspaper will continue and that in the next edition, other students can contribute articles, not just the editors,” she said. “It is a way for the young students to research things [that] would be rewarding, connect online through the newspaper meetings, and also be engaged with each other.”

In fact, plans are in the works for op-eds and for feature pieces by other fifth graders who’ve volunteered to be guest journalists.

Malik said he is excited about the paper’s future projects.

“We are getting new ideas all the time, and we’re integrating them,” he said, citing teacher trivia and reading booklists as possible coverage. “I think it has a really great future.”

Grade 4 Teacher Christina DelloRusso said the paper showcases these younger students’ capabilities.

“I think it’s an excellent way for students to pursue their individual interests, and it highlights how vital the student perspective is to a school,” she said. “People have a tendency to think of the Lower School students as too young to make a difference, but they are often the ones with the most daring and innovative ideas!”