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Nontraditional textbooks: Newspapers in schools program
hannaho / Staff Photos by Hannah Olson  

Tyla Anderson speaks to Carson Line while Carson Cook, Allison Wilson and Sara Helms look on as their group tries to answer the question, “What is a newspaper?” in Sara Wendt’s third-grade class.

Taped to the whiteboard in Sara Wendt’s third-grade classroom is a Wednesday edition of The Journal along with the question: “What is a newspaper?”

Wendt gathers her students into small groups and asks them to write their own definitions of a newspaper in one sentence. Answers varied.

“A paper with news?” one student suggests.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson  

Sara Wendt speaks to a Sharif Langston, Rawley Vance and Ava Forsythe as they work together to answer the question, “what is a newspaper?”

“News, recipes, games, coupons and advice,” one group answers.

“A newspaper is something that has stuff on it that tells us what has happened,” another group replies.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 
Addy and Ava Forsythe work together to find words during a newspaper scavenger hunt in Sara Wendt's third-grade class.

“A newspaper is a paper out on Saturdays and Wednesdays,” yet another group suggests.

Newspaper in Education

After defining what exactly a newspaper is – while ‘a paper with news’ is technically correct, the class later settled on a more substantial definition – students were asked to identify sections of the newspaper, and identify types of words within its pages for a scavenger hunt game.

The class set off in search of verbs, words with prefixes, compound words and adjectives.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson  

Sara Wendt asks her third-grade class about what they might find in a newspaper.

The activity is a part of the Newspapers in Education program, or NIE, which provides local teachers and their students the opportunity to implement the use of newspapers as an educational resource in the classroom.

The last time Wendt utilized the NIE program for her classroom, she requested one newspaper per student, but all of the papers were too much to manage with her third graders, she said.

This year, she requested just two copies of The Journal for her classroom, which has been helpful in meeting one of her classroom’s learning goals: Working in teams.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

Sara Wendt shows third-graders identifiers to help them determine which section of the newspaper this page belongs to.

“Our focus this year throughout the Falls School district is teaming with kids, getting them excited about working together and sharing ideas,” she said.

Wendt has the learning targets for her class for the 2019-20 school year posted on the wall, and she points out how working with newspapers helps to meet many of them.

“About 50 percent of what we teach in reading is supposed to be informational text, so (the newspapers) really help with that,” Wendt said.

“This is a real-world skill that they need, so this is a nice thing for them to be exposed to,” she added.

More than just the parts of speech and reading comprehension, younger students can learn numbers and percentages in real-world situations from advertisements, and older students can learn about current events affecting them on a local and global scale.

Not just for elementary

At Falls High School in Katie Hamer’s 10th grade English class, students are completing a similar activity.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

Katie Hamers helps students in her tenth-grade English class while they answer questions about their chosen newspaper article. 

Students were asked to read two articles in the newspaper, and then choose one to respond to questions about.

“Do the ‘Happy Birthday’ ads count?” one student asked jokingly while selecting his article.

“No, you took the words right out of my mouth,” Hamers said, “you have to choose an actual article, or an editorial, or coverage of a sports game or event. Anything that says ‘briefs’ or any ad doesn’t count.”

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

Kaylynn Cronin reads the newspaper in Katie Hamer’s 10th-grade English class.

Students were identifying the ‘five Ws’ – who, what, when, where, why – of their chosen article and also looking to determine where the information came from, such as, who wrote the story, and who were the sources interviewed.

Hamers said this activity will tie into the next book the class will read together, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, a classic book which deals with issues surrounding access to information.

“The entire thing that you will read and discuss tomorrow has to do with the fact that the author predicted that nobody in our current society is going to value information, newspapers or actual facts. They weren’t going to care or read it. You are reading it today, so it works out perfectly, because you’ll have more of an opinion tomorrow” she said.

Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

Tenth-grader Parker Sivonen talks to his teacher Katie Hamers about his chosen newspaper article.

While some of the third graders aren’t so keen on the idea of reading the newspaper yet – one third-grader remarked, “only grandpas would find this entertaining”– many of the 10th graders admitted while they don’t often pick up a physical copy of the paper outside of the classroom, they try to keep up with current events online.

Who provides the newspapers?

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

A third-grade student fills out the box for "A word I don't know" during the newspaper scavenger hunt.

The NIE program that involves The Journal is a part of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, of which The Journal is a member. The program serves classrooms all over the world. The local NIE program is run by The Journal in partnership with Falls Elementary and Falls High School with support from local sponsors.

The program provides local schools copies of the newspaper to use as instructional tools to teach a variety of subjects and learn about the local community.

There are 10 classrooms participating in the program this year, along with the high school counselor’s office, the Falls Elementary Library and the Falls High School library.

Some teachers choose to receive just the Wednesday edition of the Journal while some elect to receive both. On Wednesdays, 156 newspapers are delivered to classrooms and on Saturday, 59 newspapers.

The papers sent to schools are discounted by 40-cents apiece. The weekly cost is $62.40 for Wednesdays and $23.60 for Saturdays.

For the 2018-19 school year, the total program cost was $2,951. This year, the cost is estimated to be around $3,100, depending on how many days per month the newspaper is printed. This year, $1,800 was donated to help cover the cost of the program.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 
Tyla Anderson and Carson Line write their definition of a newspaper on a notecard.

This year’s business sponsors were the Packaging Corporation of America, Stewart’s Super One, City Drug and Rainy Lake Medical Center. And some program support comes from when a subscriber to the Journal dies, and their family opts to donate the remainder of their subscription to the NIE program. More sponsors are always welcome, and interested individuals may donate as well.

Bringing awareness

Veterans will soon be in area schools educating students about Veterans Day and what the annual observance means.

But it isn’t just the students who need continued education on the men and women who have served in the military, it’s veterans themselves and their families on what services are available to them.

As Veterans Day is recognized across the nation Monday, The Journal this week touched base with officials at the Koochiching County Veteran’s Service Office, who said of the estimated 1,100 to 1,700 veterans living in the county, they only manage about 800 active files.

“There are benefits families may be unaware of and they should be thinking about,” said Mark Lessard, veteran’s service officer. “If you’re a veteran or a family member of a veteran, and you’ve never been in this office, you should call and schedule an appointment to talk about benefits.”

Family involvement can be a big component of helping veterans, Lessard said, adding a lot of information and paperwork can be involved in various processes.

“It can help to have a family member accompany veterans to our office,” he said. “It’s an extra set of ears for instructions, conversations about benefits... It just adds to the information we are providing people who visit us... Our best results come when a veteran has someone with them.”

Carissa MacLean, Assistant VSO, said the office staff serve as a guide.

“We know the paperwork that has to be submitted,” she said. “We are trained in the process and we try to make it as simple for the veteran as possible. It can be daunting when you look at the amount of paper they need to sign...We help ease that.”

With the hope of reaching more of the county’s veterans, MacLean said plans are in the works to expand the VSO office and services it offers.

“At the beginning of the new year, we plan to offer more services,” she said.

Those services could include a tele-medicine option to eliminate some travel veterans have to do for appointments.

“Travel is a huge barrier,” Lessard said of traveling more than 100 miles to the nearest Veteran’s Affairs facility. “Adding the (tele-medicine) service will hopefully help with access to care our veterans need.”

Plans for an open house at the 407 Third Street VSO office are in the works and The Journal will provide more information on details when they are available.

To reach the VSO office, call 218-283-1179.

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Now, more education than citations

Since Minnesota’s hands-free law went into effect Aug. 1, state officials say more than 5,000 citations have been issued to drivers who were holding their phones in their hands.

Minnesota courts show there were 2,729 hands-free citations statewide in September; 2,317 in August, reports Scott Wasserman, public information officer, Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Locally, just one citation has been issued for violating the state’s hands-free law, and that involved a crash that occurred while the driver was using his cell phone, said Koochiching County Sheriff Perryn Hedlund.

Hedlund and International Falls Police Capt. Mike Kostiuk say local officers are first trying to education the driving public about the law, before issuing tickets.

In Koochiching County, 21 traffic stops by deputies and police have resulted in warnings since August, law enforcement logs show, Hedlund noted.

And, they said in just two months, the law is making a difference in driver behavior.

“While it is still relatively early, I do think the law is having some impact,” Hedlund said. “It appears more people are pulled off to the side of the road if they need to use their phone.”

Hedlund said the law seems to have made drivers aware of how much they use their phone while driving.

“It really had just become another habit for a lot of people,” he said. “As with any habits, they are hard to break, but I do think folks are making a conscious decision not to use their phone while driving most of the time.”

Kostiuk said most people are aware of the law.

“Discretion is a major component of policing and if we can change the behavior with education rather than citations, we will do so,” he said.

Local police believe the hands-free law will benefit the community.

“Operating a vehicle carries with it inherent and sometimes unforeseen risks that require split second decisions. By limiting the driver’s distractions, we can expect to see safer roads as a result,” Kostiuk said.

In 12 of 15 states with hands-free laws, traffic fatalities have decreased by an average of 15 percent, according to the National Safety Council and Insurance Federation based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

This law will also help law enforcement keep Minnesotans safe, say state officials. Because drivers aren’t allowed to have a phone in their hand, it’ll be easier for law enforcement to see violations and take more effective action.

Hedlund said deputies will continue to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving and issue citations if warranted.

“We appreciate the motoring public taking this issue seriously and not putting other drivers at risk,” he said.

There is no way yet to determine the long-term effect, but Kostiuk said officers will continue to enforce the law, adding people may contact law enforcement if they wish to report a distracted driver.

“The IFPD would like to remind drivers that driving is a complex series of decisions that require complete focus on the part of the driver,” he said. “Distracted driving not only endangers you but everyone on the road with you.”

More information

Meanwhile, the law is clear: Police don’t have to determine what drivers are doing with their cellphones, just the fact they have it in their hands is a violation.

The law allows a driver to use voice commands or single-touch activation to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions.

Minnesota became the 19th state with a hands-free law. Fines are $50 for the first offense and $275 for each subsequent violation, plus court costs.

State officials report drivers cited for violating the law varied greatly in age – a 19-year-old man was caught holding his phone up for a FaceTime call, while a 72-year-old man was going 30 mph in the left lane of a 55 zone, distracted by the phone held up to his ear because his Bluetooth wasn’t working.

Hands-free law violations happened all over the state, urban and rural – from Minneapolis to the unincorporated community of Pengilly, population 270.

Violators consisted of both men and women. One woman was holding a phone up to her ear and didn’t see the State Patrol car behind her for five minutes. When cited, she admitted to the trooper that holding the phone in her hand to talk is a hard habit to break. Another woman, wearing a headset, told a trooper she never talks with the phone in her hand – but she was pulled over for scrolling through her recent calls to find a phone number.