Started just six short years ago, The St. Louis American’s Newspaper In Education (NIE) program is one of the latest innovations in the newspaper’s long, iconic history. “We already knew that we were reaching the African-American community with relevant and impactful information each week. But we wanted to find a way to extend that reach to include the youngest and most vulnerable of our readership family, struggling, underserved students,” reasoned Dr. Donald M. Suggs publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American.
After listening to the private sector and education communities, we realized that there were very common, urgent needs. Among them was the urban school districts’ constant struggle to meet standardized testing goals, retain/regain accreditation and increase reading and critical thinking skills while encouraging their students to develop an early interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. At this same time, we were hearing from local corporate leaders about the importance of creating a qualified, diverse workforce pool for STEM-related job demands.
Through the generous support of local science-based corporations, The American launched its NIE program in August 2012. “It was imperative that we provided this program and all of its resources at no cost to students, teachers, parents and schools,” stated The American’s COO, Kevin Jones. “The generosity of local science-based corporations enabled us to address that goal with the launch of our program.”
During our first year, we worked with The St. Louis Public Schools and the Normandy School District, providing over 5,000 newspapers each week containing The American’s newly-created STEM page. This 36-part educational series includes seven different sections: Science Stars, Science Corner, Science Investigation, Math Connection, MAP Corner, Classroom Spotlight and Did You Know. The Science Star section intentionally highlights individual African-American scientists that have had exemplary careers in their respective fields. The other sections usually follow the theme of that scientist’s area of study, and the Classroom Spotlight section highlights a local classroom that is using the STEM page in class.
After our first year, we hired an experienced full-time NIE manager, Cathy Sewell, and the program grew. We added a weekly Healthy Kids page that includes information about nutrition, exercise, character education, safety, a healthy snack recipe and also highlights a local African-American healthcare professional. Other educational programming has included financial education, Black History, Women’s History, environmental education and more. We also hold an intensive Summer Science Academy each year at Little Creek Nature Area for high-achieving students that are nominated by their teachers based on their interest and aptitude for science.
Our program began as a one-page STEM series, but has grown into a highly organized, award-winning educational program that includes a Teacher Introductory Packet, Semester Syllabus, monthly NIE E-Newsletter, Teacher Professional Development, an NIE Advisory Committee and supplemental resources. Our education partners truly value the newspaper as a classroom resource and many incorporate the entire paper into their weekly classroom instruction. In addition to the weekly NIE series in the newspaper, some teachers use the grocery ads for real-world math lessons, the opinion columns as examples of persuasive writing and the articles for summarizing as language arts activities. The opportunities for relevant and current curriculum ideas that enhance a love for reading, intellectual curiosity and critical thinking are countless.
Paris Bouchard of Barrington Elementary is an engaged member of the NIE Advisory Committee and long-time NIE participant. He recently shared, “I have been teaching for more than twelve years, and in that time, I have rarely found a teaching strategy as useful as The St. Louis American STEM section. I use it weekly. The students really enjoy the Science Investigation. This makes for a fantastic weekly practice of how scientists perform and write about science experiments.”
We are currently working with the University of Missouri, St. Louis, to evaluate further the impact of The American’s NIE Program on student interest in science and science-focused careers, and also their improvements in critical thinking, reading comprehension and performance on standardized testing. Past research has shown an overwhelming positive influence in virtually all areas of the classroom experience. And our program has been recognized locally (named best in the state by Missouri Press Association), nationally (awarded the coveted first-place award from the National Newspaper Association four years in a row), and even internationally (Silver World Young Reader Prize from the World Association of Newspapers, representing more than 18,000 publications in more than 120 countries).
This school year our program is actively used in classrooms by over 7,000 students and teachers in eight different school districts in Missouri and Illinois, as well as several well-regarded charter schools. The program provides positive examples for students, teachers, school leaders and parents of the possibilities of African Americans in STEM. Thanks to the continued community support from far-sighted corporations in our community, including Ameren, Ascension, BJC, Boeing, Centene, Emerson, Express Scripts, Monsanto, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and World Wide Technology, we are excited to be able to continue expanding and evolving our Newspaper in Education program. It is an innovative, targeted classroom resource that produces measurable results in enriching the classroom experience and beyond for thousands of young people. NIE is an investment in optimizing the development of under realized human potential that provides social and economic benefit for the entire community.