For Sennett Middle School eighth grader, Adreanna Wright, the Simpson Street Free Press gives her the opportunity to exercise her love of writing.
“I love to write. It’s one of my favorite subjects in school,” Wright said. “I have always wanted to make my writing better.”
Wright works for the paper twice a week for two hours. In that time, she can write articles as well as work on homework. Simpson Street Free Press has a calm and quiet environment for students to work in, she said.
After Dane County parents complained their students were not excelling in English, the idea for Simpson Street Free Press was born in 1992.
For more than 20 years now, the community newspaper has honed students’ communication and personal skills, as well as their interest in reporting.
“It started just like a regular neighborhood newspaper,” Deidre Green, the managing editor at Simpson Street Free Press, said.
From humble beginnings in the Broadway-Simpson Neighborhood Center with just 12 participants, Simpson Street Free Press has grown to the current involvement of more than 200 students, ranging from elementary to high school students.
Initially, Simpson Street Free Press focused on neighborhood issues and news coverage, but the curriculum changed a few years later to better encourage the development of student participants, Green said.
This curriculum has continued to develop over the years, focusing primarily on academic topics, and in 2008 it won the National Coming Up Taller award for innovative curriculums, Green said.
Topics on the Simpson Street Free Press webpage range from financial literacy to space science, Green said. Writers for the Simpson Street Free Press look into a wide variety of topics and manage to make them both relevant and understandable for readers of all ages, she said.
The organization’s adult staff trains a team of teenage editors who edit all of the student-written articles, Green said.
“Our system works really well because our staff is all students who have gone through the program,” Green said.
A team of volunteers consisting of retired reporters and teachers assist the students, Green said. These volunteers are available for one-on-one writing conferences with the students to help give them the personalized attention many of the students need, but would not get in an ordinary classroom, she said.
The volunteers show the students their mistakes and help fix them, while giving them personalized attention, Wright said.
Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, said he has known about Simpson Street Free Press since they began more than 20 years ago. Hall believes the organization is beneficial to the both the students involved and the community as a whole.
“Student journalists turn out to be successful in a wide range of fields,” Hall said.
Communication, organization and teamwork skills are important regardless of whether the student chooses to pursue journalism or other interests, Hall said.
The community benefits from Simpson Street Free Press in multiple ways, Hall said. It provides the opportunity for students to prove that under the right circumstances, they are capable of excelling in English, and able to become both articulate messengers and good listeners, he said.
As passionate students and adults collide within the boundaries of Simpson Street Free Press, it is clear this innovative program has become so much more than its origins as a regular neighborhood newspaper, Green said.