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CHHS Seniors Create News-Sharing Resource for ES Students

Kate Berreth and Isabel Sharp, seniors at Chapel Hill High School (CHHS), share a deep and wide-ranging passion for politics and cultural exploration, but as education-focused as their own childhoods were, both wished they had found a forum for digging more deeply into current events. So they created The Little Journalist (TLJ), a nonpartisan organization with the goal to make world and national news more accessible for elementary-aged students. The tagline for the news source is “Bringing Politics Back to the Dinner Table.”

“Isabel and I were both very curious children who enjoyed learning, and we were both exposed to a wide variety of topics from a young age,” Berreth said. “However, in my experience, there weren’t as many sources I could use to learn about government or news. I definitely think there are entire topics that are considered ‘age-appropriate,’ and in my experience, government and current events felt ‘too real’ to learn about or discuss. I was a huge reader when I was younger and Isabel was too. Luckily for me, my parents placed few restrictions on the types of books that I read, so I really sampled from a wide variety of topics and genres. But as a child there weren’t as many children’s publications I could read. Mainly, the publications I did read were very science-focused, like 'National Geographic Kids,' but there weren’t any equivalent publications for current events.”

“One of the most influential things from my childhood was NPR, which was always on in my house and car, 24/7,” said Sharp. “But, the issue with just blindly consuming the news as a child was that I didn’t understand the context of any of it. I would hear buzzwords like ‘Al-Qaeda,’ ‘recession,’ and ‘tariffs’ every day on the drive to school, but my parents never really explained what any of that meant. It was important to my family that I was educated on current events and developed a habit of listening to the news, but we never really had dinner table discussions about what was going on. This is why we wanted to make our central message ‘bringing politics back to the dinner table,’ because we believe kids can’t learn as much as they want just through hearing or reading the adult-centric news. We believe the key to getting a better understanding of current events is the combination of comprehensible news and open discussion around the dinner table, and that’s what we hope TLJ can help families achieve.”

CHHS founders TLJ Both students have attended CHCCS schools since kindergarten. Berreth said, “I was enrolled in the dual-language program at Carrboro Elementary, so I think even from elementary school, I began getting exposed to different cultures and worldviews which later inspired my interest in foreign policy and politics. However, I don’t think I really considered political science to be an interest of mine until 10th grade Civics class. That class really served as a great introduction to politics and sparked my interest. My junior year, I took Comparative Government and that has been my favorite class at CHCCS, and one of the main reasons I started TLJ.”

Sharp agreed. “I have had an interest in government as well as writing for as long as I can remember, but I really started paying attention to politics after the 2016 election, when I was in 8th grade. That event definitely sparked an interest in how elections worked as well as global affairs, and I had many of these questions answered in my Civics and Comparative Government classes in high school. Kate and I were in Comparative Government with Mr. North at CHHS together, and that class exposed us to world events that sparked our shared interest in reading the news and understanding the context behind news stories. “

“We decided from the beginning that it was important to us to stay neutral as any news source should, but we were not willing to compromise on topics like human rights. We don’t believe that human rights should be a political issue, so we will not say that, for instance, women’s rights are up for debate. However, it is very difficult to stay truly neutral when divisive issues are at play. We attempt to provide both sides to every argument and concentrate heavily on the facts of what happened and different responses to those events. It’s important for any news outlet to not convey the opinions of the writer, so when I do research for articles I try to get information from a variety of sources to make the “summarized” version on TLJ as neutral as possible.”

Berreth and Sharp launched the TLJ website and newsletter last summer, with Spanish language contributions written by their classmate, Meredith Wall. The English articles are divided into age-level categories of 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12, with a selection of diverse articles in Spanish. Current featured articles include pieces on the West Coast wildfires, the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and an explanation about Hispanic Heritage Month. They also write editorials in both languages, from “A Kids’ Guide to Elections” to “La Antártida Está Derritiendo Rápidamente.”

On the website, Sharp and Berreth explain, “TLJ offers news that has been simplified to be understandable by younger audiences by focusing on both content and reading level. We publish articles for the use of parents and educators to create a dialogue between children and adults about current events and give kids a greater sense of understanding the world around them.”

Several of Sharp’s family members teach in CHCCS elementary classrooms, so the TLJ team can consult them on matters related from reading levels to appropriate content. Sharp said her parents have  given them a lot of guidance on how to write for certain age levels, and they have used lexile analyzers to make sure the texts hit the right lexile level for each target audience. 

A quick browse through ‘The Little Journalist’ indicates the workload its creators have taken on: choosing topics to cover, writing the text to target different reading levels, choosing images, editing and more. Berreth created the website using Wordpress; she uploads the articles every week. “It was my first time making a website,” she said, “so it’s still a work in progress, but it has been a great experience learning how to make websites, and I’m sure it will be helpful in the future.”

“We have both been around kids a lot through babysitting and summer camps,” said Sharp, “so the kinds of questions those kids asked us about what was going on in the world, and the interest they showed when we could explain things definitely inspired us to create TLJ. The main thing that drove us in the creation of TLJ, however, was really how much we wished we had this kind of resource when we were younger. We were both very curious children who asked many questions about the world and wished we understood what we heard on the news, so TLJ is really the resource for younger versions of ourselves.”

The TLJ team is seeking additional members in order to expand their scope and polish. Local students with interests in graphic design, social media or website management can apply to join the organization. Berreth said, “We are definitely looking to expand to new English and Spanish writers and maybe even expand into new languages.”