MARQUETTE - Ink-stained fingers tear furiously through notebook pages as Joe Levandoski raises his arms and attempts to talk over the murmuring voices of two dozen reporters.
Levandoski has only been running his newspaper for about 10 weeks now, and though he is still learning the ropes, he is constantly surprised by the skill and dedication of his staff.
He is shocked his newsroom runs so smoothly, mainly because it isn't a typical newsroom. It's the library at Cherry Creek Elementary and those ink-stained fingers belong to the third- and fourth-graders who give their time to the Panther Paper, the school newspaper.
Cherry Creek teacher’s assistant and Panther Paper Coordinator Joe Levandoski gives instruction to his group of third- and fourth-grade reporters during a regular newspaper meeting. (Journal photo by Kyle Whitney)
Cherry Creek students Taylar Uimari, Abby Johnson and Christopher Belles work on the upcoming issue of the paper, under the supervision of Ann Belles. (Journal photo by Kyle Whitney)
"They really want to do well with this," Levandoski said. "They work so well together as a group and they are really devoted to putting a good product forth."
Earlier this year, Levandoski, a second-grade teacher's assistant at Cherry Creek, approached Principal Tamra Bott and voiced his desire to do some after-school work with the kids. He and Bott discussed the options and decided to start a newspaper.
"This is something that I've never done before and it pulled me out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing," said Levandoski, a Marquette native who graduated from Michigan State University last year. "This allows me to learn to do new things and to approach kids in a different way."
A handful of parental volunteers and a pair of Northern Michigan University students help out at the group's twice-weekly meetings. Gathering in the school library, the students split up into different groups, and each group decides what to topics to cover, sometimes with Levandoski's help.
"I really leave it up to the kids to decide what they want to write about and I just kind of guide them along," he said. "They've done a great job of coming up with ideas on their own."
Next, they research their topics and conduct interviews before compiling the data and writing the articles. The children are in charge, every step of the way and Levandoski said he is amazed by the amount of time students - and volunteers - put in outside of school.
The students type and edit their own articles before Levandoski puts the text on the page, does a final edit and prints the paper.
In the first issue, students covered the unrest in Egypt, President Barack Obama's visit to Marquette, the U.P. 200 and the threat to NMU that closed Marquette's public schools, among other topics.
Last month, Levandoski used his printer and a copy machine to make 400 copies of that issue, which was handed out to every Cherry Creek student. He has tried to get it into the community a bit, as well, and has given copies to teachers in other district schools.
Third-grader Hunter Sides has been a part of the paper's staff since the beginning.
"It's really cool and I love writing a lot," he said.
Sides' group is currently researching an article about the history of Marquette's Peter White Public Library and he said he learned things in the process that he didn't know before.
Jennifer Gorton, an aide at Cherry Creek and the parent of a student, is helping out with Sides' group.
"My group blew my mind with how well they put a story together," she said. "They all have so many great ideas and my job is basically to keep them focused."
On the whole, Gorton thinks the program is beneficial and hopes to see it continue.
"We have lots of young writers here," she said. "This provides a creative outlet for that and it's really exciting."
Levandoski is hoping to produce two more issues before school lets out for the summer. The first should print in late April and the second will likely come out in May.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.