At 13 years old, Kate Dolph has already achieved the ranking most journalists spend their entire careers working toward at their respective publications: she is the editor-in-chief of the PRM PEN.
Dolph, an eighth grader at the Pearl R. Miller School (PRM), and her PRM PEN colleagues, a group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, celebrated the publication and launch of the online newspaper's first issue on Friday. They looked at a finished version of their product, which took nearly two months of work, on a screen while enjoying bagels and coffee with faculty advisors and PRM teachers Aileen Florio and Lisa Kelly. Florio and Kelly took over the newspaper club this year and, in an effort to modernize and make the publication more "green," switched to a digital version beginning with the first issue released Friday.
"I think it's a great club for the students to be involved in," Kelly said. "It's something for them to be proud of and just makes them feel good."
Florio said the group wanted to bring more traditional newspaper, which was produced by one of the school's clubs for a number of years, up to date, especially for the students.
"We're leveraging this to be more what these kids are used to," she said.
PRM Principal John Hynes said he was apprehensive, at first, about the newspaper switching to an online-only version.
"I like the students to see and touch and feel their work," he said.
But after learning more about the intentions of the news site, which will also allow the students to interact with their readers and experiement with new digital technology, he was convinced the club would create a positive experience for the young writers.
"I look in the room and I see the enthusiasm its generated," he said.
Students said they felt empowered by being able to inform the Kinnelon community of the happenings in the school community and beyond through their work. The "enthusiasm" Hynes spoke of was not just for the publication in general, but for learning about new topics to be covered in its articles.
The PRM PEN is anything but a "soft-news" publication. The homepage of the first issue features headlines such as "Hurricane Strikes Again" and results from the presidential election. And election coverage did not simply stop with the winner's name. Eighth grader Maddie wrote a full-page piece on key election issues, including the economy, taxes and "Obamacare." She broke down the background and experience of President Barack Obama and former Massacusetts governor Mitt Romney. She wrote:
The newly elected president will be the one who will decide whether America will drown itself in further debt or whether our money woes will disappear with the help of the government.
The first issue of the PRM PEN also features advice, like how to stay organized, and a Q&A piece where writers ask questions of the school guidance counselors. One question, submitted by a "Miss Messy" asks the counselors how to keep a locker organized. A more serious question asked the guidance counselors how to deal with the death of a family pet. It is signed "Lonely & Depressed." The guidance counselors responded:
You might feel mad or sad. You might find it hard to believe it happened at times or think you could have done something different before the loss. At times you might even feel 'okay' but then the next minute, hour or day feel sad again. These feelings are all normal. While we can't change the loss or death of our loved ones, we can remember the good times we had.
The PRM PEN also features a special section on the arts, written mostly by sixth grade reporter Peter Davin. In the first issue, Davin interviewed the school's band and art teachers. Davin said he first became interested in writing about the arts because he was not exactly sure what else to write about. As he wrote, his interest grew.
"I guess arts is kind of my thing," he said.
Davin, 12, said he has enjoyed his time working with others in the club so far and is proud of the work he has accomplished. He was particularly pleased on Friday to see the completed edition.
"I just kind of like seeing how things come out," he said.
Davin said he will "definitely" consider a career in journalism in the future after being inspired by the club.
Eventually, each issue will be posted on the Kinnelon Public Schools website under the PRM school tab.