By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
“Hello! If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’ve picked up the Montclair Kids News project,” reads the first sentence of the very first issue of Montclair Kids News, where, as the newspaper says, Montclair kids report the news.
Over the last few months, a group of 47 aspiring writers from elementary and middle schools across town wrote about their life during the coronavirus pandemic. They wrote about their experiences with virtual learning and advice on coping with COVID-19 for kids. They penned poems and created recipes to make delicious cupcakes and a signature pesto pasta. One student even wrote about his leprechaun sighting in Montclair.
The 28-page issue also features original artwork and pictures from the contributors.
The project was spearheaded by Rachel Wyman, owner of the Montclair Bread Co., to give children an outlet to express their creative skills, as well as a project they could focus on during remote learning, Wyman previously told Montclair Local.
Copies were distributed at Montclair Bread Company, as well as at Montclair schools.
Andrew Rice, journalist and contributing editor at New York magazine, had a similar idea. Growing up he got his first journalism experience at his middle school newspaper and wanted that same opportunity for his son, Eddie, who attends Bradford Elementary School. That’s when he met Wyman.
“She put together the initial meeting with a group of parents via Zoom,” Rice said. “We came to the conclusion that we’d like to do something in print because it would be a bit more permanent and it might serve as a kind of keepsake for the kids who are involved.”
Sara Holliday is one of the parents who got involved when her daughter, Summer Cranston, a fifth grader from Edgemont Elementary School, wanted to write an article for the project. Holliday helped out with the design and layout of the newspaper, something she did in a previous career.
“This last year has been really hard on the children,” she said. “They’ve missed out a lot of activities that they were looking forward to.”
Plans for a school newspaper, something her daughter was excited about, got canceled due to the pandemic, she said. Holliday said she feels the project will give participating children “a place to put their energy and to stay involved.”
The group sent out a call for writers through the PTA’s newsletter, Facebook groups and Montclair Bread Co. newsletters, and received a lot of interest from parents.
“I would say probably somewhere around 80 to 100 kids shared interest initially,” Rice said.
He was impressed about the level of effort the young writers put in, and that they showed they wanted to do real journalism.
“A lot of them took it upon themselves to go out and interview people,” Rice said. “We have an interview with the person that runs the Watchung bookstore. We have an interview with the general manager of the New Jersey Jackals about their upcoming baseball season. We have an interview with Peter Yacobellis, the town councilman, about kids asking questions about town politics, town government.”
Jaime Bedrin, adjunct faculty in the school of communication and media at Montclair State University and one of the editors for the project, was also impressed by the range of submissions.
“Some kids told the story about a trip. Some wrote about how they found a fossil,” Bedrin said.
Summer wrote about five ways kids, and people in general, can cope with the effects of the pandemic, something she learned how to do herself.
She writes in her article: “Like ‘Let it out’ because that feels good, getting some air because even though sometimes if you’re ‘balled up’ in your house, you need to breathe out some fresh air to feel good. Don’t be afraid to ask for help which is important and don’t overload yourself. If you’re in the middle of something don’t just keep adding on and on so you can get a moment to breathe. And remember you’re not alone. Many people are feeling the same way.”
Milin Bernberg, a third grader from Bradford Elementary school, wrote about how business at Watchung Booksellers has changed during the year.
“I learned that they had some pretty cool things,” Milin said.
He used to go to Watchung all the time, getting tons of books, he said. But when the pandemic hit, he felt safer ordering from Amazon. “But now I realized that they’re selling books now and I’m like, well, why don’t I go there?” he said.
Sapana Patel, Milin and Bradford Elementary School first-grader Ronan Bernberg’s mother, thought the project was a great opportunity for parents to encourage their kids to get involved in writing and to appreciate journalism at an early age.
Mae C. McManus-Shortt, a fourth grader from Bradford Elementary School, wrote about her favorite spot, Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Reserve, and what she likes to do while she is there.
“I go there a lot,” she said. “I like to walk around and take pictures.”
Patty McManus, Mae’s mother, said her daughter’s article “shared in a way where a lot of kids will want to explore.”
And what about the leprechaun sighting in Montclair? The article was written by Ronan, about a leprechaun named ROY G. BIV, who avoided traps in Montclair residents’ houses.
“And I would have wished I got the gold,” Ronan Bernberg said.
To find out more information about Montclair Kids News, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.