NIE Program is Big Hit at Houston

The floor of Carolyn Plowman’s third grade classroom is covered with newspapers. Students rapidly flip through the pages, pausing only to point out pictures to their classmates or cut out stories.

It can become a bit chaotic, with eager students wielding scissors and glue as they share what they find with the friends. And everything seems to excite them — from photos on the sports page to the prices of sale items at the grocery store.

It’s a common scene in many classrooms at Houston Elementary School. Once a week students in the third, fourth and fifth grades are provided a newspaper through the Herald’s Newspaper in Education program.

Although the activities aren’t always as loud and messy as the recent one in Plowman’s class, each seems to excite the students.

“They love it,” fifth grade teacher Sheryl Turner said. “They always look forward to newspaper day. If they don’t see the newspapers in here by Thursday, the start asking, ‘When are we getting our paper?'”

In it’s inaugural year, the NIE program is considered a huge success by those involved. Students enjoy the weekly break from their textbooks while teachers appreciate the activities that fit into their curriculum and meet important GLE standards. They also point out that students are so eager to read the newspaper, they don’t realize that they’re still learning.

“It’s something they can do other than just plain ole classwork,” Plowman said. “It’s more fun.”

The foundation for the program, which is sponsored by The Bank of Houston, was laid during the summer. Reading teacher Linda Buchanan spent a week at the University of Missouri-Columbia studying the NIE program and being trained. She monthly lays out lesson plans for teachers involving the newspaper, coordinates essay contests and every week drops off papers in each classroom.

As the school and the rest of the state celebrate NIE Week, Buchanan was able to reflect on Houston’s program.

“My expectations were to get the newspaper in as many classrooms as we could, and the teachers actually follow through and use them,” Buchanan said. “They have in every classroom. The program has lived up to my expectations.”

In addition to weekly NIE ads, teachers have integrated the newspaper into their classrooms with their own activities. Plowman’s students have summarized articles and browsed for pronouns and compound words. Turner had her students learn how to write good ledes by reading the opening lines of newspaper stories. Shelly Sigman’s third graders made a book containing all eight weeks of the Harry Truman serial story than ran in the Herald in January and February.

“It’s done more than I could have even imaged,” Turner said. “We just have a ball with it.”

Often times, the activity is to simply sit down and read the paper. Turner said many of her students had never been exposed to the medium.

“I really feel that these kids are going to grow up to read the newspaper,” Buchanan said. “Do we know that for sure? No. But just based on how anxious they are every week to read it — and it’s developing a habit where they will continue.”

There’s also an immediate impact. Studies have show that students who read the newspaper have an increase in vocabulary and higher test scores. A positive relationship can be seen between the use of newspapers in school and the child’s social and political awareness, which includes greater knowledge of public figures, greater awareness of the political process and greater interest in newsworthy topics.

Parents also benefit. Students take the newspaper home each week.

With the first year nearly completed, Buchanan hopes to make the NIE program even better in the future.

“I would like to see it in every classroom K-12,” she said. “That would be the ultimate goal.”

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