Here's the scoop on the Mustang Madness

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Between brownie bites, Nate Imelli reviewed the story list with his reporters and editors.

"The Africa trip?"

"It's ready, but I can't get it off my disk. "

"Geography bee?"

"I haven't finished typing it. "

"Pennies for Peace?"

"It's in. "

"Harry Potter movie review?"

"I am still working on it. "

"Survey of movie favorites?"

"We're not going to have it for this issue."

"Olympic Torch relay?"

"I haven't really typed it up. I will finish it as soon as I am done eating."

New York Times? Wall Street Journal? Nope, welcome to the Mustang Madness, a monthly newspaper published by Pinion Hills Elementary School fifth- and sixth-graders.

Twelve-year-old Nate is the editor for the January issue due out Friday. In a quick interview last week, he reflected on the job which requires him to eat lunch and edit copy at the same time, deal with shifting deadlines and wonder if he has enough copy. It's a scene played out in newsrooms across the globe.

"I like to be creative. It takes quite a bit of time, but it's fun. I don't catch every mistake; I am not that great in the editing," he said before politely excusing himself so he could get back to work.

The first issue of the Mustang Madness was a huge success. Some 500 copies were printed and 415 distributed, according to the circulation department's records. A free copy goes to each student and staff member at the school in the Johnson Lane area of Carson Valley. Copies were mailed to President Bush, Gov. Kenny Guinn, the Douglas County school board members, other schools and publishers of newspapers a bit bigger than the Mustang.

No feedback yet from the celebrity subscribers, but the students celebrated their first issue with cake, provided by Nancy Hamlett and her team of adult advisers.

"They were just beaming," said Mrs. Hamlett, journalist, writer and mom.

Mrs. Hamlett taught the basics: who, what, when, where, why and how, but she prefers to take a behind-the-scenes approach. The students came up with the name and designed the newspaper.

Principal Nancy Bryant is so supportive of the project that she stitched up two newspaper carrier bags for distribution of the four-page publication by the Mustang's circulation department and provided press passes so the students can roam the halls unimpeded in their search for news.

"Accident at the Book Fair" is the lead story in the first issue and features a picture of the "Book Fair Lady," none other than Mrs. Hamlett, gamely trying to keep a table from collapsing. If you look closely, you can detect a gleam of pride in her eyes that a Mustang Madness reporter and photographer were on the scene to get the story.

"The kids thought it was pretty neat having stories about our school," Nate said, grasping the secret of every successful newspaper -- people like to read about themselves.

Last month's issue included a feature on parent volunteer Lisa Fletcher, a survey of favorite candies (Skittles) and a movie review of "Monsters, Inc. " Film critic Casey Cotter loved this movie and gave it an A- and included bonus movie facts in her review.

A review of "The Lord of the Rings" was shelved because the movie is rated PG-13. "Not school appropriate," says Mrs. Hamlett.

When Mr. Jones, the music teacher, broke his leg, who got the story first? Mustang Madness. Students can read all about it in the January issue.

A new feature, Joke of the Month, is also in the works. Like stand-up comics, the young journalists tossed out their best one-liners before a tough audience of their peers:

"What's red and really dangerous?"

"What has a trunk and four wheels?"

"Three blind men walk into a bar ..."

Mrs. Hamlett: "Can we change that to a barn?"

"A guy walks into a toy store to buy a Barbie for his daughter. The Gymnast Barbie is $9; the Roller blade Barbie is $9 and the Divorced Barbie is $375."

After a detailed explanation by the joke teller, Mrs. Hamlett advises against the Barbie joke. "Not school appropriate."

"How about Mr. Jones' purple ape joke?"

Groans. "That would take up the whole issue."

Finally, the editorial board votes for the "red and really dangerous joke. "

Like all newspapers, the Mustang Madness is looking for ways to improve. More news from the lower grades, maybe a reporter from each class; Jordan Tipton and Austin Hoyt are working on comic strips; T. J. Provost is creating a monthly feature called "On the Bus."

Mrs. Hamlett said putting the newspaper together has had the added benefit of making readers and writers out some children for whom the written word presented obstacles. One of the goals of the school district this year is to improve literacy, and the Mustang Madness is providing an outlet.

Once the January issue is put to bed, the staff will get to work on the February publication, electing an editor, assigning stories and photos and recruiting more help.

A classified ad reads: "Fifth and sixth grade students to work on the next issue of Mustang Madness. Must be willing to work for no pay. "

"It's just one recess a week," promises Nate.

And that's how it starts, kids, one recess a week. Pretty soon, 30 years have gone by, you're still eating lunch at your desk, driving an old car and, if you are very lucky, still beaming.

Sheila Gardner is the night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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