‘Old school’ journalism lives on at old Langley Middle School

Megan Miller, 12, transcribes her hand-written notes onto a school computer during her journalism class. The seventh grader at Langley Middle School is part of the newspaper staff under teacher Mary Bakeman, which is offered as an enrichment period to boost reading and writing traits.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Megan Miller, 12, transcribes her hand-written notes onto a school computer during her journalism class. The seventh grader at Langley Middle School is part of the newspaper staff under teacher Mary Bakeman, which is offered as an enrichment period to boost reading and writing traits.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Getting advice on homework, parents and dating in middle school is so much easier these days.

The journalism students at Langley Middle School are busy rotating as the anonymous voice of “Coco Chanel,” the advice columnist for the school’s newspaper.

“It’s another way for kids to practice writing,” said Mary Bakeman, the teacher in charge of the journalism class. She is also the newspaper’s publisher and editor.

Rotating students as Coco was Bakeman’s idea to keep Coco’s identity a secret that stays inside the walls of her classroom. But it was eighth grader Lola Forde’s idea to even have an advice column in the style of “Dear Abby.”

“You can have someone else’s perspective other than your mom’s or your friends’,” Lola said. “You don’t need to answer about how a friend stole your pencil.”

“Then again, we don’t give serious answers.”

Middle school students submit letters to Coco. Those letters are about middle school issues: “Dear Coco, I like this guy, but I’m not allowed to date. From, Not allowed.”

“My girlfriend doesn’t show me that she cares about me. I don’t even know if she likes me anymore. She’s even told me she likes this other guy. My best friend in fact. I’m not sure what to do anymore … I like and care about her a lot! I just wish she could realize that soon. Please help, PB&J.”

As Coco’s creator, Lola described the pseudo-therapist as “refined and uses proper English and is usually intellectual.”

The quarterly paper has student, faculty, staff and school news. Two dozen sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students walk around with their press passes and iPads, in some instances replaced by an actual notepad and pencil, and sniff out the school scoop. Students even broke the news that longtime physical education teacher and student fitness herald Rocco Gianni will retire at the end of this school year in June.

Students Mackenzee Collins and Fiona Roberts, both seventh graders, co-authored that story. Mackenzee, 13, enjoys news writing because of the interpersonal connection (she gets to talk to people). In the course of her interview with Gianni, she learned a few things about her teacher.

“I liked interviewing Mr. Gianni. He’s really sad to leave LMS. He actually started crying,” Mackenzee said.

Journalism is an enrichment period at Langley Middle School. While some enrichment periods are designed to help students who struggle in certain areas of the state standardized testing subjects of writing, reading and math, journalism is a bonus for students who tested well in reading and writing.

Each day the class convenes for 30 minutes to work on their stories, interviewing, writing, photographing, brainstorming, editing and revising.

“I’m glad our school has it,” said Kaitlin Ellerby-Muse, 13, who said she enjoys journalism because of the ease of writing news copy and cramming information into a short story. “We get to work on our writing skills.”

There are no titles among the students: no editor, no senior staff reporter, no photography director. Everyone is capable, to varying degrees, of each part of the process. One student rose to the top of the writing ranks, by her peers’ admissions. Eighth grader Riley Yale, 14, pumped out the most stories each issue. Riley wrote about St. Patrick’s Day, a class field trip to a rock climbing gym, the school’s food drive and the geography bee.

Her work is mostly on the front end. Riley said she pitches plenty of story ideas and loads the brainstorming process. Some stories were adapted from national news, like one she worked on about Google Glasses.

“Usually I try to censor the bad ones out,” Riley said.

Not that she has many bad ideas, at least in her teacher’s eyes.

“She just has a way with words,” Bakeman said.

The paper costs very little. Bakeman prints 200 copies, about enough for 60 percent of the student body, which the journalism students deliver to their classmates during the midday enrichment period. As for layout software, well, Bakeman and her students made do with Google Docs, which worked well enough, but has lots of limits. When writing a story, students must all submit their texts in the same font style and size for a uniform look. Those are then printed and pasted to an 11-by-17 inch sheets, scanned and copied.

Langley Middle School’s student chronicles have continued for many decades, though broken from time to time and in different incarnations. Formerly called the Cougar Chronicles, the journalism students chose the new name, News for the Cougs, in September 2012 at the start of the school year.

“I have a curriculum from probably the ’60s,” Bakeman said. “It’s old school.”

For all of the technological struggles, Bakeman wants to teach journalism again next year, and for many years to come.

“I’d be pleased as punch if it continued,” she said.

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