Aims to boost literacy, cultivate newspaper habit
North Dakota editor promotes ‘news’ kids can use
Aims to boost literacy, cultivate newspaper habit
By Michael Standaert, North Dakota News Cooperative
After several years of declining scores, only one third of fourth graders in North Dakota are proficient in reading. Seeing that stark slide prompted one local newspaper publisher to act by providing a newspaper kids can call their own.
Currently around 30,000 of the Kid Scoop News newspapers are being distributed to 70-80 schools in the western half of North Dakota.
Hopes are, by the end of 2023, the paper could reach most schools in the state, according to Cecile Wehrman, owner of Journal Publishing in Crosby, which publishes the Journal of Crosby and Tioga Tribune. Wehrman has spearheaded the effort since last May.
The main aim is boosting declining student literacy, Wehrman said, through something fun and accessible to elementary school kids. Kid Scoop News includes a range of reading, science, animal knowledge, math, crossword puzzles and games, activities and colorful graphics in each issue.
“When people hear the current proficiency rates for reading, they're alarmed,” said Wehrman.
Reading proficiency data from the Nation’s Report Card, a tool developed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to track math, reading, science and writing skills at fourth and eighth grade levels, quantifies that alarm.
In the NAEP data, only 31 percent of fourth graders score at or above the reading proficiency level, down from 34 percent in 2019 and 38 percent in 2002. By that tally, 69 percent of fourth grade students in the state do not read at what is considered proficient, slightly worse than the current national average of 68 percent.
With reading proficiency rates declining and computer, phone and other device screen time increasing among elementary school kids, Wehrman said she hopes Kid Scoop News can be part of the answer toward reversing those trends.
“We're talking about a majority of our students not being able to read well, and that not only doesn't bode well for newspapers, but it also doesn’t bode well for employers, or governments or any part of our society that requires citizens to be literate and knowledgeable about the world around them,” Wehrman said.
Getting kids into the habit of picking up a newspaper could also benefit newspapers that have also seen a steady decline in readership, by cultivating a literate readership in the long run, she said.
“For years I've been trying to figure out how to get younger families to subscribe to the paper. It never occurred to me that reading could be one of the reasons why,” Wehrman said.
Making reading exciting
Judging by the reception Robert Kastner gets when he drops Kid Scoop News off at schools, he can tell students are excited about the paper. Kids take his photo, send him thank you cards, and group around when he brings the paper to their schools. Wehrman jokes that Kastner is becoming something of a “rock star.”
Kastner, manager of Greater Northwest Publishing Inc. in Minot, helps to distribute papers to schools and newspapers from Belcourt to Bismarck to Dickinson, along with a partner printer in Garrison. He tells the story of one school librarian who is elated the resource is at her school.
“She said she was always trying to get the kids to read the daily paper, but they didn’t take any interest,” Kastner said. “When she started bringing Kid Scoop in, she said they all really got excited about it.”
Newspapers across the western half of the state have also been a vital cog in distribution, delivering papers to local schools and interacting with students in a way many never have.
“They're making the contacts for the most part with their individual schools. They're helping to deliver the papers. They get to provide that and have their name associated with a product that you know people feel good about,” Wehrman said.
Kid Scoop in class
Schools are free to decide what to do with Kid Scoop News once they receive it. While many simply send the paper home with kids, others are actively incorporating the publication into their classes.
Faith Anderson, a 3rd grade teacher at Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood public schools north of Minot, started working Kid Scoop into her curriculum last September.
“At the beginning of every month we can look through to see what types of activities or information is in each one and generally there's usually some stories that connect with concepts that we've already been teaching throughout the months,” Anderson said.
Anderson mainly uses the paper with science and social studies, but also for general reading, or sometimes for a take home assignment.
“It's kind of nice to have something like that instead of always using technology like an iPad or something,” Anderson said.
At Kenmare Elementary school in Kenmare and Sunnyside Elementary in Minot, all elementary classes are using Kid Scoop News to supplement their curriculum.
“We use it as an independent reading source. They love the articles, topics presented and puzzles. The students also enjoy the directed drawings,” Peggy Balvitsch, a teacher at Kenmare, said. “As second graders, I want them to develop a lifelong interest in reading newspapers as a source of current events and entertainment.”
Each issue of Kid Scoop News lays out the educational standards addressed on every page, making it easier for teachers to decide how to fit it into their classes, Wehrman said.
“We use most of the articles with our language arts curriculum,” Terese Schmidt, a 5th grade teacher at Kenmare said. “Whether that be writing cause and effect, summarizing, or vocabulary, the students are engaged. Articles are done in small groups for collaboration skills, independent work, or group work.”
Expanding news literacy
Kid Scoop News, developed by as a non-profit in California to promote literacy, is now being used in classrooms across the country. Wehrman connected with the group a year ago with a similar literacy goal in mind and secured grants to help pay for the cost of printing and distribution.
A recent $100,000 grant from the grantmaking organization the Bush Foundation administered by StrengthenND, a non-profit that focuses on rural community development, is helping expand that distribution beyond schools in the northwest corner of the state. The paper now reaches 95 percent of schools in western North Dakota.
Each issue includes interesting sections and facts about animals, the world, history, financial literacy, and news literacy.
News literacy is an important component for Wehrman, since most kids may have never picked up a newspaper before.
“Establishing the expectation that quality information comes on news print, we hope, will have a huge impact on students’ future interactions with media along with skills to evaluate whether trust of a particular news product is warranted,” she said.
While the publication looks like a newspaper, it is important to note that there is no “news” in Kid Scoop News, Wehrman said.
“We want kids to read, we don't want to have to argue about what they're consuming,” Wehrman said. “They just cover such a wide gamut of subjects that are of interest to kids and presented in a way that is interesting for them.”
More support is needed however to expand the program to cover the whole state, Wehrman said.
Local support in some areas already comes from American Legion and VFW clubs, which goes “hand in hand with their efforts to encourage good citizenship,” she said. Since many have gaming activities where revenue is required to go toward educational ventures, it should be “a natural fit” if similar groups are looking to donate in other communities.
Disclaimer: Cecile Wehrman is a board member of the North Dakota News Cooperative.
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Curline: Arianna Nygaard, Photo by The Journal, Crosby