Mattituck junior high school’s Tucker Times is the “farm team” for the high school newspaper, the Mattitalk, and it’s where Mattituck kids first learn the ropes of journalism.
English teacher Susan McGinn started the Tucker Times nine years ago. It is now more successful than ever at attracting volunteer writers, with about 25 students this year all dedicated to filling its Xeroxed pages each month with school news, book and movie reviews, recipes and editorials.
Ms. McGinn was a staff writer at the Port Jefferson Record for many years and then a freelance writer for Newsday and The New York Times. She switched careers some years ago to become a teacher and now serves as the advisor to both the Mattitalk and Tucker Times.
“I miss journalism a lot,” she said. “This gives me a chance to stay involved.”
Last Wednesday, one week before Ms. McGinn planned to print and hand out 300 copies of the Tucker Times December edition to every student in the junior high, a dozen of her staff were hard at work meeting their deadlines in the computer lab in the school library.
Eighth graders Maddalena Mineo, Leah Santacroce and Elizabeth Dumblis were editing a page of photos from September’s Spirit Week, which they’d delayed printing until now because they wanted to present a retrospective to show how much had changed since the beginning of the year.
“We wanted to remind people what fun we had,” said Elizabeth.
Many of the pictures were taken by Jamie Stonemetz, who serves as the staff’s photo guru. When Jamie saw that the other students were working on the Spirit Week pictures, she raced across the room, full of energy.
“Where’s my awesome aperture picture?” she asked her fellow students.
“What a-picture?” asked Elizabeth.
“Aperture,” said Jamie.
“Oh, it’s a camera term,” said Maddalena. “I’m lucky. Jamie’s my neighbor, so I can walk over for help whenever I want.”
Leah was multi-tasking, helping with the photo project while working on a review of “Little Bee,” a historical novel the plot twists of which were making a synopsis nearly impossible.
Maddalena, an animal lover who writes the paper’s “Critter Corner,” makes monthly trips to Southold Town’s animal shelter to write profiles of animals that are up for adoption.
Eighth grader Gregory Messinger, who serves as an all-around go-to guy for the paper as well as a writer, was editing student Oliver Orr’s review of “The Deathly Hollows,” a one-page, single-spaced story printed from her computer in very small type. Somehow, he would have to fit the whole article on one page of the newspaper.
“I think we should keep it as is,” said Greg of Oliver’s work. “It’s his original thing.”
Five minutes later, he’d added a still picture from the movie and somehow made the entire article fit on one page.
Ryan Zlatinsky, also in eighth grade, is the paper’s advocate for history. In October, he urged other students in an opinion piece to watch classic movies, and this month he’s outlining the history of music.
Ryan is in the middle of writing two books, one about a Confederate soldier who wants to fight for the Union and one about a mystical treasure hunt. In November, he wrote the Tucker Times’ cover story urging the school to update its track.
“I joined the newspaper for exposure,” he said.
Most of the Tucker Times’ staff this year is in eighth grade, and worked on the paper when they were seventh graders as well, said Ms. McGinn. Next year, she’ll be losing much of the Tucker Times’ staff to the high school’s Mattitalk, leaving room for younger students to get involved.
She said that the paper is accepting submissions from all junior high students.
“All are welcome here,” she said. “They learn about all different kinds of writing, and it allows them to excel in a way they can’t do in the classroom.”