Kirkwood High School student newspaper

Old Newsboys Day charity newspaper

February 24, 2017

Thanksgiving allows us to celebrate the gifts of family and fortune, but the week before Thanksgiving offers a different opportunity: the chance to give back. Old Newsboys, a nonprofit charitable project of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, runs a special-edition newspaper each year on the Thursday morning before Thanksgiving. Volunteers take to St. Louis street corners to sell the Old Newsboys Day paper, which contains high school students’ stories on local charities Old Newsboys helps fund. The money raised selling papers flows right back into the charities Old Newsboys supports. And for Northside Community School, a free charter elementary school in North St. Louis City, a little bit of money made all the difference.

Just ask John Grote, Northside Community School executive director. He used Old Newsboys funding to buy binoculars for his students partaking in Birdsleuth, a bird-watching research program through the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

“Binoculars are necessary,” Grote said. “We can get fairly close to birds, but if we get too close, as you know, they fly away.”

Northside Community School represents only one of the 139 organizations that already received funds from Old Newsboys this year. Since Duncan Bauman of the Globe-Democrat started Old Newsboys in 1957, the organization has raised more than $16.5 million for all forms of local charities, from Angel’s Arms foster care to Cardinal Ritter Senior Services.

Old Newsboys Day] pushes high school students out of their comfort zones a little bit and helps them learn about how nonprofits help children.”

— Beth O’Malley, reader engagement editor

However, the annual Old Newsboys Day special edition did not run in its current format until 2012, when Beth O’Malley, then working with the Suburban Journals, took over production. O’Malley said she modeled the paper off of the 2011 issue, in which high school journalists wrote about issues within their schools.

“I came up with the idea to have high school journalists write about the nonprofits that Old Newsboys Day gives money to,” O’Malley, reader engagement editor, said. “It pushes high school students out of their comfort zones a little bit and helps them learn about how nonprofits help children in the area.”

When she joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2014, O’Malley brought the Old Newsboys Day paper with her. Every August, she reaches out to beneficiaries of Old Newsboys and asks if they would like to be covered in the special edition. By early September, O’Malley has her list, and she sends assignments to high school teachers across the area so that their students have time to complete their stories by mid-October. Then, at the beginning of November, O’Malley sends 20-30 stories off to the press for publication in that year’s paper.

“The teachers always know what the students can handle,” O’Malley said. “Some are very hands-off, and others really treat it like a classroom project, and that just varies on what the teacher wants the students to get out of it or how their class is structured, so that’s why I try to leave it up to the teachers. They know their students better.”

Four TKC staffers wrote for this year’s Old Newsboys Day paper, and their stories are available to read below.

North Side Community School believes in birds

Scientists can currently name about 9,956 species of birds; yet, according to Stacie Mann, Bird Sleuth program resource coordinator at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, a Canadian boy needed to find just one to make a dream come true.

“For the one-hundred-millionth submission to eBird, everybody was like, ‘Who’s it gonna be?’ because we kinda had planned this big deal,” Mann said. “Most of these people at the lab are crazy birders, and they go out before work and at lunch sending around emails. We were like, ‘It’s gonna be one of us,’ cause we are submitting all the time.”

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society started eBird in 2002 to incorporate community submissions into a global bird database. Bird Sleuth began in 2004 as a means to encourage children to engage in their own exploration via both virtual and mailed-in kits. Mann said the 12-year-old Canadian who submitted the one-hundred-millionth sighting, an American robin, reflects the extraordinary impact of the programs.

“We flew him and his family to the lab of ornithology,” Mann said. “They gave him a really nice scope and had this big party for him. For me, the cool thing about [Bird Sleuth] is giving kids that opportunity to actually make a huge difference in the world. He’s like a symbol of it, and I love that story.”

John Grote, St. Louis North Side Community School executive director, said he sought a similar sense of adventure for his students when he introduced them to the Bird Sleuth program last year. Roughly 150 third-through-fifth graders, who stay for the school’s extended day program from 3:00-4:15 p.m., receive the birdwatching enrichment opportunity.

“They have to go out and learn how to identify something by observing it and being careful about what they see and what conclusions they can draw, and that’s an important part of the scientific process,” Grote said. “The children maintain the feeders. They fill them, and I think that’s good for them to be part of the whole process and not just be the recipients of someone else’s work.”

Mann said birdwatching represents a starting point for children to immerse themselves in nature. Plus, the presence of birds in virtually any environment makes the Bird Sleuth program especially conducive to underprivileged students such as those in St. Louis.

“No matter where you live, and no matter what time of year it is, there are birds out,” Mann said. “Even for kids in downtown New York City, there are birds. Even in the middle of winter, there are birds.”

Grote also expressed gratitude for this aspect of birdwatching, as he stressed the importance that all children, regardless of background, receive the opportunity to partake in educational enrichment. He said his school always welcomes donors and volunteers whose efforts promote the welfare of inner-city children and the entire population.

“We as a society need all of our citizens educated in such a way that they can fully participate in the United States’s social life, community life, economic life, and political life,” Grote said. “It’s valuable to produce educated citizens, and that’s what we are trying to do. Some of the alternatives for these children have not been very strong or good, and too many students come out educated in a way that is not going to allow them to fully participate.”

In addition to providing a unique opportunity to students, Mann said the Bird Sleuth program remains the best method for collecting useable data on birds. When educators purchase a Bird Sleuth kit or register for online lessons, they join the larger “citizen science” community.

“There’s one cool thing about citizen science that people don’t realize,” Mann said. “If you go outside to see what birds are out there and you see nothing; you see no crows or no robins; you still put zero because that means they weren’t there, and that still tells scientists a lot of information.”

Plus, Mann said students investments into birdwatching contribute to a much more important conservation effort. Consideration for birds, according to Mann, provides a path for people to begin caring for other aspects of nature as well.

“Getting young people interested in their environment and the natural world in general is going to benefit conservation as they grow older,” Mann said. “People tend to want to protect what they know. They love what they know, and they protect what they love. So, if we can start kids young with that, and particularly inner-city kids and students who don’t have as many opportunities as others, it kind of snowballs as they get older. They talk to adults about what they’re doing, and that kind of snowballs as well. We don’t really think about what we’re doing for how it benefits us as the lab. The lab really thinks outside of ourselves like, ‘How can we improve the world; how can we improve other people’s lives and those of animals?’ It’s an outward looking philosophy.”

Ultimately, Grote and Mann both look forward to the future development of the Bird Sleuth program. Grote said the program’s second year at North Side Community School looks especially promising, since the first year got off to a late start.

“This year, we’ll have the full-blown program, Grote said. “We already have the feeders out early to draw the birds, and the students will get on it and follow the birds throughout the season, all through the winter and into the spring. I think we’ll do a better job with it.”

As a former high school teacher herself, Mann said her involvement in Bird Sleuth opens a door to even greater contributions in education. Now, she said she wants even more people to join Grote’s students in the “citizen science” community.

“[Bird Sleuth] is affecting far more classrooms and far more students than I could have alone, and it’s supporting [teachers] and making their jobs a little more interesting, varied and effective,” Mann said. “I think that’s wonderful.”

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