On the Record

P ens and narrow notebooks in hand, the reporters of The East Rock Record march out of their newsroom and fan out on their beats. They’re covering stories on immigration, fitness and the effect of beauty images on women and girls. They also want to educate adults about TikTok and find out what their teachers really think about homework.

All of The East Rock Record’s newshounds are elementary and middle school students, most of them at East Rock Community and Cultural Studies Magnet School. But their journalism assignments are much more than a school project. Every semester they produce a full-size print newspaper packed with stories about their school and the city with a circulation of 3,000 and distribution points at Ives Main Library, Clark’s Family Restaurant, New Haven Reads and City Hall, to name a few. The December issue took the school community to task on the question of whether recycling was really occurring in the building, held a press conference with then-mayor-elect Justin Elicker that pulled no punches and ran a piece that asked, “Is East Rock Accepting of LGBTQ Students?”

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“They’re thinking and they’re worrying and they’re questioning why their world is how it is, and I think journalism is a good way to do that because you have to ask those kinds of questions,” says Matt Kristoffersen, a Yale sophomore and one of the Record’s 12 editors, who join the students weekly to guide discussions, reporting, planning and writing and who ultimately edit the students’ work. A staff reporter covering faculty and academics for the Yale Daily News and the former editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper in Redlands, California, Kristoffersen is inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of the Record’s reporters. His group wrote the recycling report last semester. “They got to talk to the principal and hold her to account. I feel like that was really empowering for them,” he says. “It’s so important as a teenager, as a developing young adult, to know that you have a voice and that people have to take you seriously.”

This semester, Kristoffersen’s group is reporting a story on homework with the working title “Hate It or Secretly Love it?: The Psychology of Homework.” For their third of 11 sessions, they sit at a small table in the school library amid the Record’s nine other groups. There are about 45 reporters in total, when everyone is present. They’re brainstorming interview questions for teachers, students and experts as well as for a schoolwide survey on their topics. Kristoffersen tells the group that he thinks the homework topic is a promising one. “If we do it right, we could probably get it on the front page,” he says, and a couple of the students lean in, tantalized.

Once they’ve nailed down their questions, the team heads upstairs to look for teachers. They formally introduce themselves in the classroom of Garrett Griffin (even though he knows them), explain their story and ask for an interview. When they ask a question about parents doing homework for their children, Griffin says, “It happens more frequently than you think.” The reporters look up from their notebooks in surprise. Kristoffersen follows up: How often? “About once a week,” Griffin says. “Whoa,” reporter Omar Dweck says under his breath. Sounds like a scoop.

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Behind this journalistic experience is freelance education reporter Laura Pappano, a longtime writer for The New York Times and The Hechinger Report (“the Politico of education,” as she describes it). She first started a student newspaper at her children’s school in Boston nearly 20 years ago, then transplanted the project when she moved to New Haven. It took on a new life at Celentano BioTech, Health and Medical Magnet School before finding its permanent home at East Rock Magnet, in great part due to the Office of New Haven Affairs at Yale, which provides support including the undergraduate and graduate student workers. Yale senior Isabel Rooper, who is one of those student workers, says the program’s success is a result of Pappano’s “passion for working with the kids” and “really high expectations.”

Pappano is proud of the quality of the newspaper, but she says there’s more to it than what you’ll read in black and white. The paper is also “endorsing the voices of young people and their faith in their own ability to ask questions, to think, to figure it out, to look around them, see a problem, see something that’s interesting, to be curious—you know, all of those things.” And, she adds, it’s fun.

So much fun that some kids can’t get enough. Reporter Isabel Faustino has been with the Record for five years and now travels every Thursday from Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) to continue as a staff reporter. She says she’s grown beyond opinion pieces like “dogs versus cats” to seek out the types of stories “that you think about, but you hesitate on writing them… People might hate on you for creating them, but you create them anyway because you know that you really want to write about it.”

James Maciel-Andrews, a junior at ESUMS, is an East Rock Record alumnus who also returns every other week to mentor cub reporters. He points out another benefit of the students’ reporting: “seeing them get more than one interpretation of an issue or more than one view and how that changes their stance.”

That kind of broad, informed thinking is vital to our democracy, says Dave Cruz, an eighth-grade Record reporter. “The U.S. really only functions” when people are “informed and they make their decisions that are not influenced by other people but instead by facts that have been researched thoroughly,” says Cruz, who’s looking forward to a career in social work, teaching or politics. The paper’s research and reportage is especially important for those members of the community who may not otherwise have access to the information, Cruz adds.

The Record’s reporters themselves access information beyond the school’s walls. Pappano brings in experts to be interviewed in the areas covered each semester, and the whole staff takes a spring trip to the state capital to interview legislators. But information can flow in both directions. Adults can learn a lot from these kids, Pappano says. “Sometimes the stuff that is happening in our kids’ lives is a powerful kind of forecast of what the issues are going to be.” For example, the Record covered cell phone addiction and vaping in middle schools before Pappano saw those issues covered in the national media.

“The things that we’re writing about are no less important than the things that are written about nationally,” she insists. The next issue of The East Rock Record hits newsstands on April 30, when you can read all about it.

The East Rock Record
East Rock Community and Cultural Studies Magnet School – 133 Nash St, New Haven (map)
www.instagram.com/eastrockrecord

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 and 3 feature Matt Kristoffersen with Record reporters. Image 2 features Laura Pappano.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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