In 1986, John Budris, at the time a teacher in the West Tisbury School, had an idea. Why not create a newspaper produced by kids, and the ad revenue from the paper could be used to help fund the fifth graders’ annual trip on the Shenandoah? The paper was aimed at summer visitors, and it was called “School’s Out, a kid’s guide to the Vineyard.”
The paper was so successful that the next year, Joel Weintraub, another West Tisbury teacher, suggested they use it instead to fund the more expensive eighth grade trip to England. Joel, a former Fulbright Scholar, had spent 11 years teaching school in England, and when he came to the West Tisbury School, he set up an exchange program with schools around Manchester, England, that still exists today.
Each year in June every seventh-grade student in the West Tisbury School is assigned a student counterpart in England with whom they begin corresponding. The English kids come here in October and spend a week; they stay with host families, take side trips, socialize, and learn about our culture. And every June, our 8th graders respond in kind.
“School’s Out” is free, and today about 10,000 copies are circulated to inns, the airport, ferry terminals, bookstores, grocery stores, and more, and the advertising in some years generates enough revenue to pay for the trip. Last year the paper raised $22,000.
But even if the paper didn’t make a dime, it’s still a tremendous learning opportunity for the students. “All kids in the seventh grade are involved because so much of the curriculum revolves around this,” said Katie Carroll, the overall parent coordinator. “They work on researching, writing, and editing articles all year long in their English class, then they work on the tech portion in the computer lab.”
The paper provides a focus for the year’s teachings in the computer lab. “Since the beginning of the year, the kids have been working on InDesign software and Photoshop, and everything leading up to putting the paper together,” said Alan Mahoney, technology teacher at the school. “They’ve been writing and editing articles, and now it’s time for the publishing.” The actual printing of the paper has been handled by the Martha’s Vineyard Times since its beginning.
In addition to researching and writing the articles and laying them out on the computer, the students have to create cover art, do photography, draw cartoons, sell ad space, and in some cases design the ads, and with the help of the parent supervisors, they distribute the papers all over the Island.
On one wall of the Computer Lab hangs a huge computer screen. Mr. Mahoney walked over to the touchscreen display, which showed a spreadsheet, and manipulated it with his finger. “The kids learn to use spreadsheets,” he said. “They show the progress of the articles, the pagination, the ad sales — this is all very sophisticated stuff.”
Mr. Mahoney came to take over the Computer Lab from the high school three years ago, and he’s impressed with what a great learning platform the School’s Out program has become. “Because of School’s Out,” he said, “I’ve had to redesign my whole eighth-grade curriculum, because when eighth graders come in now after having worked on School’s Out, they’ve done everything.”
The kids are allowed to write about pretty much any subject that interests them, but they’re required to write a “how to” piece, an interview, and an article on what to do on the Vineyard.
Jason Kurth is writing about how to find good parking spots on the Island, Brooks Carroll is writing a piece comparing the beaches on the north shore of the Island with the south shore, Christopher DaSilva is writing about how to avoid ticks, and Molly Menton is writing about how to have a perfect picnic.
But not all the articles are instructional. Isabella Thorpe is writing an essay on parents’ expectations for kids based on gender, Rammon Dos Santos is writing a poem about fishing, and Sydney Bierman is writing an argument for why school should start later.
This year’s seventh graders have their work cut out for them; there are only 19 students in the entire class, so each kid has a lot of work to do to get the paper written, composed, and distributed by the end of June. But they’ll get the job done — just like they have for the past 30 years.