This week–from Tuesday, May 11, through Friday, May 14–four Maine Community Heritage Project teams will be featured in lavish full-color, full-page spreads in the Bangor Daily News. The project is part of Newspapers in Education–a 40-year-old effort to introduce newspapers as a teaching tool in the classroom. This is the second year Bangor Daily has partnered with Maine Historical Society to feature the MCHP teams in its readership. The Lincoln team will be featured first, followed by Guilford, Blue Hill, and finally, Bangor.
Each team worked for weeks with Bangor Daily News staff to flesh out the content and contours of the page. BDN staff attended team meetings, visited classrooms, and, in one case, hosted students on-site at the paper–all to directly involve MCHP participants in the planning and layout process. Not only was the experience an opportunity for students to contribute to a major newspaper read by thousands in a geographic region larger than the state of Connecticut–it was also a valuable learning experience for BDN staff members themselves, who had not previously spent time working so closely in a classroom setting.
One such classroom was Della Martin’s at Blue Hill Consolidated School. Her small class of just a dozen Social Studies students, who have been working on their MCHP shipbuilding exhibit all year long, were well-prepared with image and text suggestions, and eager to contribute what they’ve learned about this important element of Blue Hill’s past.
Through a series of questions and brainstorming exercises facilitated by the BDN staff, the class worked their way toward a basic layout of the page. NIE Coordinator Pat Lemieux first sketched these ideas out on the whiteboard…
… and then the paper’s Director of Graphics, Eric Zelz, transposed the skeletal plan to the computer. Students made hands-on contributions along the way, such as typing in a pull-quote that the class drafted with the help of BDN Editor-at-Large Julie Harris. They also made important and tricky formatting decisions, such as whether a particular story should be told in traditional narrative text or via a graphic timeline (the latter received more votes), and
which of their many excellent images had to be left out due to space issues. It was an insightful, productive, and fun experience for all, and has resulted in a dynamic page about the fruits of MCHP in this small, coastal community.
Meanwhile, the Guilford team’s educational partner, Piscataquis Community Middle School, had a profoundly different experience, thanks to the flexibility of transporting students to Bangor. Instead of an in-class workshop, Rex Webb’s 50 8th graders got to design their page at the mother ship with the added benefit of touring her substantial facilities.
(And if that wasn’t enough, a scheduling coincidence resulted in an impromptu visit with Senator Olympia Snowe during the students’ lunch break–profiled in this April 9 post.)
The 50 students were divided into two groups that switched halfway through the morning. Pat led one group on a tour of the paper’s facilities in Bangor–moving from the lobby, where they discussed the various phases of publication, to the circulation, graphic design, writing, newsroom, and advertising departments–followed by a quick visit to the Publication Plant in Hampden, a five-minute bus ride away.
Meanwhile, the other group worked on page layout with Eric and Julie. As in Blue Hill, the two staffers explained the tools of their trade and the process by which they carry an idea through to a finished product–much like the students would be doing themselves. After a discussion of what the students had learned about Guilford through their MCHP work, the brainstorming of what to include on the page began. Some of the suggestions included before-and-after pictures, sports, farms, historic buildings with new purposes, and the Piscataquis River.
This last idea eventually became the focal point for the page–and provided a nice example of the importance of accuracy in reporting. While an initial student drawing of the river showed a vertical, north-south line, Eric pulled up an online map that revealed its true west-to-east flow. Clarifying this basic geographic principle determined the rest of the page’s layout.
While the beauty of the finished pages will be what sticks in everyone’s mind, it is small moments like these–episodes of problem-solving, of learning from community experts, of experiencing a bit of real-world work–that really made this partnership worthwhile. And in this day and age when newspapers struggle simply to stay afloat, we at Maine Historical Society are truly grateful for the generosity of the Bangor Daily News in devoting considerable time, resources, and real estate to education, history, and community.
(A special thanks to MCHP Education Consultant Kristie Littlefield for her significant contributions to this post, particularly regarding the Guilford experience.)