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Frances Nungester fifth-grader Noah Clay scours the sports section of The Decatur Daily as his class participates in a reading program each Tuesday led by their teacher, Wendy Lang.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Frances Nungester fifth-grader Noah Clay scours the sports section of The Decatur Daily as his class participates in a reading program each Tuesday led by their teacher, Wendy Lang.

Checking out news
Teacher turns newspaper into educational tool

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Every Tuesday, The Decatur Daily gets a thorough reading. The news is a weekly class lesson for Wendy Lang's fifth-grade class at Frances Nungester Elementary.

Lang leads the class as the students evaluate editors' decisions and debate the issues. She has been using the newspaper for about two years.

"There are so many things that they can get out of the newspaper," Lang says. "There's math, science, English, reading and writing. It's a very effective tool."

Lang says the students even get lessons in morals.

"I don't push my morals on them, but I do tell them that I want them to know what they believe and why they believe that way," Lang says.

Comparing designs

After a recent redesign by The Daily, Lang says she brought in an old paper to compare and contrast. Teaching students to compare and contrast is a major part of fifth grade.

The teacher believes their weekly discussions are turning her students into avid newspaper readers. She requires them to read 30 minutes a night, and she said they often choose the newspaper as their reading material. They also do a current events lesson Thursdays, researching events from the world, nation, state and local area, and learning the difference between the four.

She gives students time at the start of class to read through The Daily before she begins her discussion.

Looking at editors' decisions

Her first question is, "Which event did the editors think was the most important to their readers?"

The students quickly point to the photo and story about Monday night's Decatur Christmas Parade. They're amazed at the high angle from which the photographer took the photo. Several of the students sang with the Frances Nungester choir at the lighting of the city Christmas tree and then attended the parade.

Lang uses a Riverfront article on the Decatur City Council raising Point Mallard's green fees as a math lesson. At the end of the lesson, she makes a writing assignment on how council members used math to decide that they needed a fee increase.

"Make sure you read the whole story so you get all of the facts," she emphasizes several times.

Boys interested in sports

Lang says she often chooses stories that are relevant to the children because it's easier to hold their attention and get them to remember a lesson.

She brings math into the discussion again by talking about a story about Auburn University playing in the Cotton Bowl and the cost of tickets. She says sports are a big interest among the boys.

Another Riverfront story, "Famished ponies," particularly interests the children. The story is about how law enforcement could only charge Lawrence County horse owners with a misdemeanor instead of a felony for neglecting their four horses.

Hoping to get a debate started, Lang asks the students if the law should treat the abuse of an animal as it would the abuse of a child. She reminds them that she wants their opinions, and none would be right or wrong.

The children are in agreement, however, that they should be treated equally. Two say their parents said they should treat their pet as their baby.

Lang had more success starting a debate Nov. 22, the morning after a school bus loaded with Lee High School students plunged off Interstate 565 and four students died.

The students wrote letters to the editor on whether they are for or against requiring seat belts for passengers in full-size school buses.

Destinee Griffin thinks that the Huntsville wreck is the reason buses should have seat belts. She writes that seat belts would keep the children in their seats and allow the bus driver to concentrate on his driving.

"I don't want anybody to get into a car wreck like Lee High did on Monday," Griffin writes. "It horrified me to see those teens on the ground dead. I couldn't imagine me in that bus injured."

Amber Inman agrees, writing that buses need seat belts "so that students will not get hurt as easily, students will not get out of their seat while the bus is in motion, and so that everyone is in a safer school bus system.

"If they have a seat belt on, they may not fly through the bus and get hurt as much," Amber continues.

Sierra Austin disagrees, however, writing that she doesn't think buses need seat belts "because they (students) could get stuck, act stubborn or (the belts would) stop working ... School buses can be dangerous in several different ways."

Lang says the wreck was of particular interest to her students because many of them ride the bus.

"That was something new for them to think about. It happened so close that it made them think about think about their own safety."

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