Breanna James and Jake Marr did not know each other, even though they both attend Payson Center for Success (PCS), but after spending hours putting together the school newsletter, they now consider themselves brother and sister.
“We didn’t know each other at all,” said James, “but we turned into siblings.”
Their collaboration created a publication that has bowled over the community and fellow classmates, said Linda Gibson, lead teacher for PCS.
Gibson and fellow teachers and staff decided to resurrect the newsletter project after it had been left to smolder in the ashes for a couple of years.
The newsletter serves the dual purpose of keeping past Credit for Kids donors, parents, and volunteers informed on the progress of the school. James and Marr took on the project for extracurricular credit.
Gibson saw the effects on the community shortly after sending out the newsletter.
She told the story of an older gentleman coming to the school after receiving his copy in the mail.
“This older gentleman came in before the holidays,” said Gibson. “He said, ‘Your newsletter was so amazing, I have to contribute something to this school. I only wish I had more to give. If I ever win the lottery, this school would get a million dollars.’”
Not only did the community stand up and take notice, but so did the students.
“Kids who don’t read, picked this up and were reading it,” said James.
Marr said the two spent a lot of time thinking about what it would take to make themselves interested in reading the newsletter.
First thing they tackled was the cover. They decided the cover was critical because it was the first thing readers would notice.
“We had five different ideas for the cover,” Marr said.
Finding the perfect dragon was a project unto itself. Since the dragon is the PCS mascot, James and Marr took days culling through graphics and photos to find the perfect dragon.
Marr, who drifted toward the layout and production side of the newsletter, thought past dragons used on newsletter covers lacked the edginess teens crave.
“Some of the past newsletters had hand-drawn dragons that looked childish,” he said.
The dragon they picked would make any Chinese artist proud.
Next, the two expanded on the list of articles teachers suggested they publish.
“We took their list and expanded it,” said Marr, “At the same time, we wanted parents involved — to let them know they can come along with us (on our trips) and gain experience.”
James asked other students to write pieces. She said getting her peers to finish writing what she had asked them to write proved the biggest challenge of her life — not to mention then editing what work she did get.
“The kids here can write,” she said, “But they wouldn’t try. We gave them two months to write articles and then with the deadline a few days away when I checked in with them, they would say that had forgotten to do it and now didn’t have time. Or they would turn in something with no punctuation.”
James admits she has a fetish about grammar. She said she often had to rewrite articles that were too difficult to simply edit.
Each editor had their own idea on how to layout stories, which caused dissension between them.
“I would wait till he didn’t come to school and I’d change everything on an article layout I didn’t like,” said James.
“I’d come back to school and say, ‘Hey, why did you do this?’” said Marr.
Instead of choosing one design over the other, the two would simply start from scratch and create something completely new.
The final hurdle came when Marr and James had to print out, collate, label, staple and send out 300 copies.
At first, the two tried to send out the copies from the district office.
“Linda was running around trying to solve problems,” said Marr. “The lady at the district said we couldn’t have staples or fold it over like we did. She suggested PostNet could help us.”
But PostNet said the students had already done all the work PostNet would have done for them and if they paid for the mailing, they would just be paying for duplicate work.
In the end, Marr and James sat and put on their own stamps and mailed them out through the post office.
Despite the challenges, Marr and James are proud of their work. Marr said he would do it all over again.
“If we can do this again, I will,” he said.
James plans on graduating before the next newsletter comes out, but if she was still at PCS, she said she would do it all again, too.
To see a copy of the newsletter, please visit the PCS Web site at www.pusd.k12.az.us/pcs.