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Beyond the Books: IC elementary students launch newspaper

Rocket Times writers conduct research on articles.

Students at Van Allen Elementary in Iowa City type at the speed of light, which would make their namesake -- acclaimed space scientist James Van Allen -- proud.

The urgent keystrokes a sign of an impending, albeit lenient, deadline, as these young journalists get a glimpse into life as a reporter.

With a staff of elementary-aged contributors, The Rocket Times is Van Allen's newspaper.

The publication is primarily a student-led after-school club, inspired by a small group of students.

"I just had this idea in fourth grade," said co-creator Athena Wu. "I'm in sixth grade right now, so that was two years ago, but it kind of fizzled out."

Teacher Bridget Laroche decided to lend a helping hand, providing a space and some computers to help this budding students pursue their passion.

"More and more students continued to join and we've even asked some students to be guest contributors so if they can't come to our weekly meetings, they can still be involved that way," said Laroche.

Now, nearly 30 students engineer articles, with the mission of publishing a new edition each month.

"They just see it as something fun, and yet in the process they're gaining all kinds of writing skills and all kinds of communications skills," said Laroche, "even more so than if I was trying to teach those things."

Despite the talented bunch of young journalists, Houston, we do not have a problem in terms of my job being in jeopardy.

I asked several students about what they want to be when they grow up, including Wu, who told me, "an astronaut," adding, "not a journalist."

Fourth grader Aleksey Titarenko primarily writes about science and technology, and said those topics could become his career.

"I'm either going to study history that's been from a while ago, or just do biology," said Titarenko.

Jaelyn Perry also writes for The Rocket Times, saying her favorite part is meeting new people and the joy of writing.

"They're passionate about it," said Laroche, who said providing a platform for these students was a no-brainer. "I think that as educators we need to capitalize on that, and that's what school should be."

The Rocket Times staff meets once a week for 30 minutes after school to brainstorm topics and produce articles.

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