How Summit-Questa Montessori School’s Middle School Newspaper is “Creating Change, One Paper at a Time”
Adolescence is full of trials and triumphs as children strive to learn more about themselves and the world around them on their path to adulthood. Children are seeking to find an aim in life, growing deeper within themselves and with others. Maria Montessori saw adolescence as a time when children begin their assimilation as a member of society. As she said in her book From Childhood to Adolescence, “The chief symptom of adolescence is a state of expectation, a tendency towards creative work and a need for strengthening of self-confidence” (1948, p. 63).
Summit-Questa Montessori’s (SQMS) middle school teacher, Athena Simmer, sought to provide her students with a unique form of creative work that would not only allow them to build their sense of self, but would help them foster meaningful connections with others through their impact in the community. Her background in journalism allowed Athena to recognize a unique connection between the passion and emotive nature of adolescents and the artistry of preparing a compelling news story. According to Athena, the greatness of human life adolescents perceive and the inspiration they have to search for an aim in life which is often referred to as “great work” aligns naturally with journalism. With support from principal Judy Dempsey who believed in her vision, Athena began offering a journalism class to middle school students at SQMS.
Athena’s students follow the entire journalism process when crafting a piece for their school newspaper, SQMS Press. They are given the freedom of choice to follow their own inclinations and to write stories on issues that matter to them, allowing them to move in the direction of their own life’s path. They first develop and pitch an idea to their classmates explaining the reasoning for their desire to write the piece and the draw it will have for readers. With approval from their peers, students research their topic and share their findings. They then find an expert source they wish to interview and write to them requesting a meeting. During the interview, they are able to ask questions and gain additional insight about their topic. Thanks to digital advancements, many interviews are able to be conducted via Zoom in front of other classmates. After their interview, students write and edit their story. The editing process may include four or five revisions before a final draft is developed that is ready for print.
Through the journalism process, Athena has witnessed many positive impacts for her students. She notices the empowerment students feel when they see the impact of their stories and how their writing has made others feel. She sees that they learn they are capable of facilitating change and being a part of the big conversation, understanding that their work and their voice matters.
SQMS journalism students had many positive things to say about their experiences as writers and editors for SQMS Press. Seventh grader, Raquel Seavey, enjoys the entire process, stating, “I like choosing a topic that I have an interest in, interviewing people from all over the world and overall, being able to discover and learn many new things about something I have a passion for.” Another seventh grader, Adelaide Cohn, says, “It’s fun to be informative yet creative at the same time.”
Jack Gillin’s favorite part is “looking at the impact the story could/will make.” Dylan Glascock, sixth grade, reports that getting to “share other people’s stories with the community in a meaningful way” is her favorite part of the process.
Students believe the newspaper has had a powerful impact on the entire community because it entertains and informs.
Some powerful articles students have written so far include:
- A piece written by eighth grader, Lily Xeroteres, about landscape photographer Clyde Butcher, showcasing the beauty of the Everglades through her own photographs, hoping to inspire others to help save them.
- An article written by Paloma Bare, a seventh grade student, on the gift of boredom. Paloma interviewed a professor of psychology at York University and shared her findings, wishing to teach others the need for boredom to promote creativity, allowing us to be the “author of our lives.”
- A piece written by Jack Gillin, a sixth grade student, about children’s mental health troubles featuring an interview with the CEO of a mental health association and an anonymous middle school student in an effort to encourage parents to ask if they truly listen to their child and hear their troubles. When asked about his piece, Jack stated, “I came up with the idea of writing about parents who don’t listen to their children’s mental health issues because it’s something that I really care about and wanted to bring awareness to, being a child with mental health issues. I’m so excited for my story to run in the newspaper and I can’t wait to see the impact that it makes on children and parents worldwide.”
- An article written by Cristina Ballestas, a seventh grader, about the benefits of art therapy. Cristina created and featured several pieces of her own art in hopes of helping others learn how art can ease the mind and help externalize internal feelings. When asked to describe a story she has written and the impact it has had on her and others, Cristina stated, “I’m really excited about my latest story on art therapy. I like it so much because I’m a huge fan of art and psychology, and mental health is a very important topic, so I hope my story will be impactful and help others.”
Athena reveals that during this entire process, “students develop conscience and character… sharing the perspectives of others with dignity and empathy.” When the newspaper is published and distributed, students are able to see, firsthand, the impact they can make on their community and on the world. Athena shares that it is her hope “that the values [students] learn in journalism—to search for the truth and see the dignity in all human beings; to act with integrity and empathy; to stay curious, creative, and ambitious; to think independently; to collaborate, as co-creators, to make our community stronger; to always believe in our power and purpose—will help them in all pursuits in life.”
As Athena reminds us, “Montessori believed cultivating such delicate feelings in adolescence led to the nobility of mankind.” Through journalism, middle school students at SQMS are led by passion and creativity to bring benefit to humanity, fulfilling Maria Montessori’s dream, and inspiring others to continue her powerful work.
Montessori, Maria. 1948. From Childhood to Adolescence. Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 63.
About the Author
Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori in-home teacher and nanny, a Montessori educational consultant for the Andrew’s Institute, a Montessori educator for adult learners, and a volunteer moderator for the Montessori at Home 0 – 3 Facebook page. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, Lower Elementary coordinator, and associate head of school. She also has experience as a School Psychologist intern. She is AMS credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.