HINSDALE, N.H. -- There's a room at Hinsdale Middle/High School that was frequently occupied past the day's final bell throughout the 2013-14 academic year.
The English teacher and handful of students inside work tirelessly at their computers, with just some soda and junk food keeping their wheels turning. But these folks aren't there for detention hall or an after-school study group -- they are there dipping their toes into the tempting waters of journalism, and having plenty of fun while doing it.
They are the staff of The Pacer Recap, Hinsdale Middle/High School's own student newspaper. Facilitated by English teacher Al Hoel, members of the paper plug away throughout each month putting together an issue of the paper to share with everyone in the building and across the way at Hinsdale Elementary School. Hoel told the Reformer he was asked by Karen Thompson, the Extended Learning Opportunities coordinator at the school, if he was interested in working on a student newspaper and, after accepting the offer, he hand-picked students that he knew well.
The students working on the paper on May 29 were Zebulon Hildreth, Jascha Sual, Ultin Akeley, Greggory Shippee, Kathryn Fecto and Anthony Gringeri. Student Starr Bruce was working and could not make it. The students plan to continue to produce a monthly edition through the summer. They bring a multitude of interests and abilities to the table and each signed up for their own individual reasons. Sual said she was hesitant at first but agreed to join after Hoel said she could serve as the paper's business manager. She said her work has established a new confidence within her.
"The first time that I actually started getting out there and started talking to people, it was kind of scary for me because I didn't know how to handle things and that gave me a taste of the real world," she said at her computer, adding that she wants to pursue civil engineering in college. "I am (glad I joined) because it helped with organizing things."
Shippee jokes that he joined "by accident," but is glad he did.
"It gives me something to do in my spare time, which I have a lot of. It's fun and I enjoy it and, plus, I'm a slightly better writer than we I started," he said. Those sentiments were echoed by Akeley.
Hildreth wants to go attend college to study music and writes the music reviews for the newspaper. Fecto wants to go into secondary education, which he admits is unrelated to journalism, but is glad she started at The Pacer Recap because it gives her a chance to voice her opinion through editorials. Gringeri said he enjoys writing but came aboard to work on computers, which he wants to study in college.
The newspaper started thanks to funding from the Hinsdale Community Coalition and, to Hoel's knowledge, is the first in school history. The paper is printed at Silver Direct Inc. in Keene. June's edition includes a review of the new "Godzilla" movie and a story about a student protest held in May. Eighty to 100 students, according to one 17-year-old who said she participated, filed into the school's cafeteria during a school-wide study hall period on May 15 to express their displeasure over the Hinsdale School Board's decision not to renew the contracts of six teachers for the next academic year. A story like that is vulnerable to conflicts of interest if written by a student journalist, but Hoel said there is a filtration system embedded in a rigorous operation of peer-editing to ensure all subjectivity and bias is taken out. He said every measure is taken to guarantee each non-editorial article is as balanced as possible.
Principal Ann Freitag, whose role of authority might cause some to suspect she is highly critical of the Pacer Recap, has conveyed her appreciation and admiration for the newspaper.
"It's an absolute gem for us," she said in a message left at the Reformer.
Hoel said fresh copies are dropped off at the school's library, at the School Administrative Unit 92 office around the corner and at the Elementary School. The paper seems to have gained popularity with its readers, which the young journalists credit with giving the product its name. Hoel said the first edition encouraged people to suggest names for the new venture and teacher Sarah Robarge suggested The Pacer Recap because it is a catchy palindrome -- or a word that reads the same written forward or backward.
"We liked it because, one, we're not a daily and we're not a weekly, we're a monthly, and 'Recap' is perfect because most of our articles are recaps," Hoel said. "And then we liked the whole palindrome thing."
The newspaper's logo was designed by Hunter Downs.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.