School newspaper victim of levy battle

PERRYSBURG — As this fall’s school levy debate raged around them, Perrysburg middle schoolers started
creating a newspaper.
They didn’t realize that the campaign in the community could affect them.
Start-up print newspapers are a rarity in the modern digital world, but the budding journalists in Emily
Hayes’ sixth-grade class at Hull Prairie Intermediate school jumped at the idea.
Hayes is a reading specialist who came up with the idea to do school newspaper at HPI along with Anne
Blanchard, an intervention tutor, as part of their writing class called “Scribble, Scribble, Scribble.“

“Due to the financial situation with our district, we will not be going forward with the newspaper,”
Hayes said. “I am not sure if the writing class will continue with another teacher.”
The new paper was to be called “The Prairie Press,” a print-style newspaper, not just a web-based news
source. It was to be a hands-on learning process. They were also learning about layouts and printing.

This was much more than an English class. The 26 students studied the criteria making up a newspaper
story, as well as the types of articles. But Hayes also had them also doing the deep dive into history
and government. They even touched on the business side of creating a newspaper.
Little did they know that economics and job security would also be a lesson.
The students were interviewed in early fall, with the idea of getting the first edition out before
Thanksgiving. Hayes also had them prepare interview questions for the same day they were being
interviewed for this article. They were going to learn in a true Socratic method style of teaching.
Excitement in the future newsroom was thick with anticipation for the project. All the students had
questions.
When asked about the primary constitutional freedom that would apply to them, Madison Fisher quickly
answered, “Freedom of the press.”
The class also talked about the differences between journalism and social media, beginning with
journalistic standards and fact checking.
“It’s when you check to see if something is actually true and not false,“ Brock Close said about fact
checking.
They were also very interested in this reporter’s favorite interviews, asking what politicians and rock
stars are really like in person.
Some of the story ideas the class talked about writing were sports, water pollution and monarch butterfly
migration.
Meanwhile, the Perrysburg schools levy campaign was heating up. Election Day, Nov. 5, was coming.
But sixth graders don’t vote and the classroom can be a vacuum.
The students studied articles from the Sentinel-Tribune, like “Teaching nurdles to turtles,” which
brought home the excitement of a locally based newspaper article and its significance to their own
lives. Amy Boros was the HPI science teacher in that piece doing environmental studies about Lake Erie.
Her classroom is next to Hayes’ classroom.
Then came the state auditor’s report on the school district.
The day the report was released, Sept. 30, the recommendations were listed out and available to the
public, including district employees.
The auditor recommended an immediate $7 million reduction to the annual budget, including the elimination
of 98.5 jobs and a 14% cut across the board.
With collective bargaining laws and the union contract in place, the cuts weren’t that simple. However,
with teacher job seniority a factor, many knew if they were the ones on the chopping block. That
included both Hayes and Blanchard.
A few weeks later, when it came out that there were actually 128 employees who would lose their jobs if
the levy failed, some employees felt the uncertainty was too much for their financial future. Resumes
went out.
The levy did pass, with 53% of the vote, but change is going to happen anyway.
Hayes still has her job at HPI, but it will be changing in January. She does not know how.
Blanchard took a teaching job in a different district.
“For now, my students are working on some creative writing assignments with the substitute teachers,”
wrote Hayes in a recent email updating the class status.
With continued growth expected in the district and little hope for support from the state, the school
will not be funding the new newspaper project.
Hayes is hoping to possibly publish a wall display made to look like a newspaper.
Blanchard’s resignation was effective Nov. 1. A second teacher, Janet Hohenberger, has also tendered her
resignation to the board for similar reasons, effective Dec. 31.