There’s an old adage about getting two birds with one stone. It’s an outcome we all like to see, especially after serious time spent planning and putting in the hard work that usually follows with what you’ve undertaken. The good news is this is exactly what happens when you create a school newsletter:
- you have the means to communicate items of interest, celebrate successes and advertise future events and opportunities.
- you’re able to capture and project school spirit, excitement and loyalty across your school’s base (students, parents, faculty).
These are only two of the benefits, which also include giving student writers, photographers and artists an outlet for their creativity, expanding their learning portfolio via communications basics, empowering student staff to take responsibility for something concrete and building an avenue for students to participate in school life.
Where to start?
It sounds daunting but it’s easier than one may think. A critical first step: you need to ensure the ongoing commitment and support of your administration (not so much in terms of finances—see below—but rather in terms of emphasis and legitimacy as an approved voice of your school). Once you’ve secured administrative backing, there are fundamental steps that are both simple to follow and effective toward reaching your goal of an informative, entertaining publication. Here they are:
- Enlist a responsible, capable staff member to serve as a faculty advisor. This person must be fluent in English grammar and composition, be dedicated to excellence, aware that the publication speaks for the school, have a strong sense of what’s going on and be able to reach out quickly and effectively to the entire school community. The person must be committed to following through with the newsletter for the entire year and willing to:
- make sure issues are planned (content and timing) and that articles are written and submitted on time by working with the student editor-in-chief (see below).
- help student editors write pieces and design graphics for their items.
- help the layout editor format and prepare the issue file.
- serve as the liaison between administration and the newspaper’s staff and the authority figure holding the process together.
- Assemble a student editorial team. You should select students who are excited about the school, competent with their Language Arts writing skills set and responsible/accountable for their actions. Middle school students tend to put off obligations if not given clear objectives and the authority to accomplish them, so it’s important to select students with proven academic and work habits who’ll accept the challenge and see it through. Key editorial positions include an editor-in-chief, layout/design editor, photography/graphics editor and circulation editor. Add to this list various feature editors and general staff to write additional items as needed, help with copying and distribution. Including a student with online skills is also important here—that person can help with computer-based design programs such as Microsoft Publisher, as well as getting an electronic version of the paper placed on the school’s website.
- Determine how many articles to feature. Typical school newspapers have four sides with 12 articles/items, or three different entries on each page. These items can be augmented by an insert or supplement, usually two-sided. Size and content are governed by many factors, including publication cycles, school events and resource availability. Generally, the more varied the content the more successful the publication. You are addressing a broad spectrum of readers and need to include fun items such as “did you know” or simple contests along with features on preparations for standardized testing or class trips. Most significantly, content must be matched to the interests of the writers to enable their creativity and enthusiasm to flow into the piece.
- Format/design the publication. Again, this step is where a student with computer-based design knowledge is very desirable. There are many templates available in online publishing programs and your staff can select one that best fits your vision of the publication’s personality and final appearance. The best formats are those that permit flexibility for article and photo/illustration sizes, make efficient use of white space and lend themselves to copying without becoming “muddy” or blurred. Include graphics, photos, original artwork, etc. to make the newsletter visually interesting and attractive. Many newsletters employ an 11” x 17” format, resulting in four pages/sides when folded. Simplicity is the answer here. Be sure to gain the approval of your administration on the newsletter’s design before you begin laying it out. In this article Crafting and Publishing an Effective Newsletter by Type you can find more about design and editing.
- Gather ideas for articles. Because most school newspapers have 12 articles, brainstorm that number or even more to provide suite of choices for the finished newsletter. Identifying more items than what an issue can contain provides a backup resource in case one of those planned does not materialize. Ideas are best generated by the staff themselves, since they are the ones writing the articles. Typical ideas are: feature articles on activities, sports teams, accomplishments; columns on advice, random facts, movies, music or fashion; contests and games. School administration provides another avenue for content ideas. Often your principal has an upcoming item he/she wants to promote and featuring it in the school newsletter is a practical way to accomplish the goal. Avoid permitting students to copy content from Internet or other existing sources (e.g. a movie review that appeared in a national publication). Final selection of content should rest with the faculty advisor and student editor-in-chief.
- Consider only content that is appropriate. Common sense goes a long way in determining what is suitable or appropriate for a middle school newsletter. Avoid articles that focus on an individual student or enable a student to be identified or singled out via an advice or “heard around the school” column. Avoid favoritism expressed for either a student or faculty member (e.g. “Interview with Ms. X, the best teacher in school.”) Of course, do not assign or include any items dealing with violence, drugs, weapons or intimacy. These topics are inappropriate for middle school students and resulting controversy could adversely affect the publication, school, students and faculty.
- Make a schedule of when you will produce each issue for the entire year. This is a key step and one where you and your staff have to be very genuine regarding their commitment to the publication. As you know, school schedules and student obligations are notoriously open to change—often at a moment’s notice. Establishing a newsletter cycle will help offset the impact of such unpredictable things as missing articles or graphics, student illness or resource shifts. Recommend that your writers get approval and a head start on their next article as soon as they hand in their first one. Have them inform you immediately if they can’t meet an item’s deadline so you can substitute another in its place (see above re: gathering content ideas). Print the schedule and ensure all staff members receive a copy.
- Print and distribute the final, approved newsletter. Once the issue has been finalized and approved by your administrators, the last step is to publish it via photocopying and physical distribution. Most schools have copy machines, which accept the 11” x 17” format (inserts are usually 8.5” x 11” standard sheets) and permit two-side copying. After obtaining the correct size paper, arrange time on the copy machine to produce the number of copies needed. The circulation editor helps here, not only ensuring that sufficient copies of all materials are made but also directing the process for folding and insertion of supplements (as required). This editor should also be responsible for distributing the newsletter in the manner selected for your school. Several options exist here: each student receives a copy in homeroom; copies are placed in a central location such as the cafeteria; parents and visitors receive copies during report card or back to school nights; copies are placed included with information packets sent home. The method selected should depend upon the timeliest and cost-effective way possible. In addition, you should provide the publication file to your school’s web coordinator for posting on your website as appropriate.
- There is one more element inherent in producing a school newsletter, and that is fun. The process should be an enjoyable one for all involved, flexible enough to accept last-minute changes without inordinate stress while at the same time challenging students to be original and display their creativity. Your investment in a school newsletter will definitely pay off twice, maybe more, as you see the benefits to your school, students and parents.