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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2019:02:11 15:15:21

Old Forge Observer newspaper staff: From left, first row: Lindsey Welsh and teacher Joe Sylvester. Second row: Jenna Dallolio, Jillian Rachko, Abygale Bergamino, Emily Tomasovitch and Nick Zamerowski.

Extra, extra, here’s a hot scoop. Old Forge Junior-Senior High School now has its very own student newspaper.

After years without a journalism presence, the high school recently launched the online-only Old Forge Observer.

The newspaper was the brainchild of Old Forge English department chair Joe Sylvester, who believes students can benefit in many ways by learning the ins and outs of reporting and the value of a free and vigorous press.

“The school used to have a newspaper, but it fell by the wayside about 14 years ago,” Sylvester said. “I had wanted to bring it back for a while, but to do it in print was cost prohibitive.”

Undeterred, Sylvester investigated the online route, and realized he could launch the paper as a free Google Site that could be accessed via the district’s website. He brought the idea to Old Forge principal Christopher Gatto, who got behind it “120 percent,” according to Sylvester.

The bi-weekly paper has now published eight editions, and currently boasts a staff of about 35 student reporters, editors and photographers.

“The Google site is extremely user-friendly,” Sylvester said. “The kids don’t get frustrated with it. Everything is done through Google docs, so after they write a story, the editors can look at it, and then I read it.”

As the paper’s advisor, Sylvester moderates the Monday afternoon pitch meetings, but leaves the paper’s editorial direction entirely up to the students. Obviously, a good portion of the paper’s mission is directed toward district news, from new initiatives to athletics to coverage of school board meetings. It also does its share of human-interest features, among them a profile of a student who serves as an Old Forge junior firefighter.

In addition, students have gone out into the Old Forge community to cover events like Snow Forge. And, they’ve also weighed in on national and world events.

Special Christmas and Valentine’s Day editions have been published, and the students have put together some fun polls. And, the paper has proven to be a great place to provide up-to-date information on snow days, makeup days and upcoming fundraisers, Sylvester said.

So far, most of the reporting has striven for classic newspaper objectivity. However, a few students have written editorials, including one who opined on whether cheerleading should be classified a sport.

Sylvester said he’s constantly trying to recruit more students. One day, he noticed a student doodling in class and asked her if she wanted to do a comic strip for the paper.

Overall, he’s been very impressed with the students’ work so far.

“We definitely have some talent. And it’s nice to give the kids an outlet that isn’t necessarily sports related,” he said.

Old Forge senior Emily Tomasovitch, a senior editor for The Old Forge Observer, said the paper has provided a great platform to practice and showcase her writing skills.

“My experience with The Old Forge Observer has been nothing less than extraordinary,” Emily wrote in an email. “Since the very beginning, I have loved being able to write articles to share with my community so that everyone can stay up to date on current news and events. Mr. Sylvester is a great advisor/leader for the school newspaper because he is insightful and ready to help anyone with any questions they may have.”

“The newspaper is a great way to spread information about students’ accomplishments as well as fundraisers and events the clubs are holding. I have a fun time being able to read over everyone’s articles and approve them before we publish them,” added junior and senior editor Abygale Bergamino. “It is extremely rewarding hearing how so many people enjoy reading what we put out. All of us are proud of what we publish, and I am so unbelievably grateful that my school started a newspaper and I got to be a part of it.”

With any luck, Sylvester said, the newspaper will prove to be an enriching activity for many other students down the road.

“I just hope it keeps growing, the way it has been,” he said. “I would like to do a weekly edition. I just want to have the kids take the ball and run with it. I keep telling them, ‘This is your newspaper. It’s whatever you make of it. Take ownership of it.’”

To read the latest edition of The Old Forge Observer, visit: sites.google.com/ofsd.cc/ofsdnews/home.