News hounds on the prowl for Bulldog Growl

Fifth-graders Kayla Virga and Anna Velding consider assignments

The writers sat at classroom tables — pens in hand with figurative cub reporter caps on — to plan the March edition of Bulldog Growl, a feature-filled, student-created newsletter that circulates through Nickels Intermediate hallways and classrooms.

“Kayla, you seem excited about Feature Teacher. Who are you going to do?” asked teacher and Bulldog Growl editor Melanie Sabin.

Fifth-grader Ella Lash listens to story ideas

“Mrs. DeHaan,” answered Kayla Varga, referring to fifth-grade teacher Sheri DeHaan, whom she planned to interview for the question-and-answer story.

“All right. Please make sure she sends me a picture of the two of you,” Sabin said.

The Bulldog Growl staff — which this year is comprised of 10 girls (though it’s open to boys, too) — cover the fifth and sixth grade school. Reporters interview staff members and students about many topics, often in man-on-the-street format to get a variety of reactions. Each month, the news team plans the next edition, pitching story ideas of their own and receiving assignments from Sabin, who has a savvy eye for good editorial content.

“Lilly, find five students and three teachers and ask, ‘What makes a good principal?’” she directed sixth-grader Lilly Gould. She encouraged Lilly to ask people to elaborate if they give short, nondescript answers.

The students took on their assignments:

  • Write an article on best ways to study for tests, including tips and information from a source who is an authority on the matter
  • Find three “weird and wacky” records from the Guinness Book of World Records. Definitely include a photo
  • Talk to five students about their favorite music and why they love it. If a song that comes repeatedly, mention that it’s a popular one
  • Talk to five students and ask, “Would you rather be kind or honest?”

“Make them think,” Sabin said.

Sabin, who teaches language arts and social studies, launched Bulldog Growl three years ago because one of her students, Zoey Wedge, now a ninth-grader at Byron Center High School, had started her own, similar publication. Sabin was inspired.  I thought, “This is something really interesting. We could start something like this.”

Each year, Sabin “hires” up to 12 students, six from each grade, to the staff.

To apply, students submit a story and write why they are interested. If there are more applicants than spots, Sabin holds job interviews.

“I look for good writing skills. I look for creativity. I look for students who are willing to step out of their box and talk to people.”

Covering the Beat

The cub reporters said they’ve learned to observe their surroundings and think about story ideas. They’ve had to get past the awkwardness of approaching people and ask follow-up questions. “It’s not just sitting around and hoping the idea comes to you. You kind of have to go out there,” said sixth-grader Trinity Harris.

Added sixth-grader Anna Velding: “You get to step out of your comfort zone… you get to share with the school a new thing we’re doing  so they can maybe get involved next year.”

They say they have discovered interesting details about people they’ve interviewed. The librarian, Jennifer Okhuysen, for example, has a five-foot corn snake, even though she detests snakes. The backstory? Okhuysen’s daughter had a love for snakes, so she got one for her daughter.

It’s that kind of thing that makes writing about people interesting, Lilly said.

“You get to go up to teachers and ask them questions you wouldn’t normally ask.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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