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Otwell Middle sixth-graders create newspapers to encourage writing

CUMMING — There is a brand-new newspaper in Cumming.

Once a sixth-grade class at Otwell Middle School realized the words on a student’s shirt was a palindrome — a word or words spelled the same way backwards — they had the name of their paper: The Tacocat Times.

Alashia Cody initiated a project with her five English language arts gifted classes at the school on Tribble Gap Road. Each class created a newspaper — with original research, articles and layouts — with the best product being chosen as the winner.

“I wanted them to write without realizing they were writing,” said Cody, who has been at Otwell for four years after teaching at a private school in Forsyth County.

“A lot of the times all they think about when they think about writing is essays. They don’t always realize at this age that there can be an actual audience.”

Most in the 24-student class said they are more interested now in writing and journalism after doing the project.

Classes spent one or two days a week on the paper for two months. While each class created one final product, smaller groups worked together to write each article.

“They were amazing. Everyone did everything,” Cody said. “They weren’t griping at each other, like I thought would definitely happen. I really didn’t even have to do much. I just guided them.”

Josh Alligood was in a group that wrote an article on a newly announced water-powered vehicle.

“We had to figure out how it works. It can actually run on any kind of water, like tea,” he said.

Research was done online, as was much of the students’ editing and collaboration.

Students used their school-provided Chromebooks to go on Google Chat to interact and edit articles.

Alligood said his favorite thing during the process was learning how fast the car can go.

“I thought it wouldn’t really go that fast, but it can get up to like 50 mph. I thought it would go maybe 20,” he said.

Another article in the paper — which, as a whole, used different fonts and pictures to illustrate the words — covered the dangers of unhealthy fast-food restaurants.

“Most people love fast food and they don’t really think about what they’re eating,” said Farida Mamedova, also a writer for The Tacocat Times.

Mamedova and her group researched blogs about other peoples’ experiences at fast-food chains — the article focused on just one — and visited other websites to look up nutrition facts for a chart.

She said the most interesting thing she learned was about a woman who found a tooth in her burger.

“I won’t be eating [there] anymore,” she said.

The name of the paper came from a shirt.

“I had the T-shirt on one day, and now my nickname is Tacocat. My friends thought it would be a cool idea if we named our newspaper after it, kind of like our class inside joke,” said Sarah Jenne, who sported the blue shirt while sitting with The Tacocat Times on her desk.

She helped research for and write an article about the two female soldiers who became the first women to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning near Columbus.

“And how the Navy Seals are now going to accept women,” Jenne said. “We looked at news sources online and read about other sources that were reporting on it. We had two girls and one boy in our group.”

She said the most difficult part of writing the article was “trying to figure out how to explain in an easy way how hard it is for them and how much work they do. It’s so grueling.”

According to Cody, two Otwell administrators and the gifted learning coordinator judged the five final products. All three chose The Tacocat Times without speaking to one another.

“I want them to know they have a voice that deserves to be heard. They just have to learn how to communicate that voice,” Cody said. “Sometimes, if only their teacher sees what they write, they don’t think as much of it.”