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'The Challenger' Inspires Young Reporters

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Nearly 20 fifth-graders peered at computer screens and tapped out the beginning of questions-and-answers with a local figure skater who competed in junior nationals, a review of popular computer games, and a fiction story about chicken wings.  A few members of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) helped guide the pieces destined for the spring edition of Church Street Elementary School's newspaper.

Sam Brown, a fifth-grader, said he wished he knew that pre-kindergartners through third-graders could submit work to the Challenger when he was younger.

Brown, who got involved in fourth-grade, said he has two favorite things about the newspaper: "I like when it comes out and you can show it to all your friends.  Also, when the whole idea of what you're doing comes it's the best time. It's like, 'Wow, I'm actually going to do an interview.'"

Nearby, Brown's peers were working on a story about how elementary schoolers were starting their own websites, coverage of an upcoming parent reading night, profiles for Black History Month, and Super Bowl articles. The rest of his grade was outside enjoying the unseasonable 50 degree weather.

"My group is pretty passionate. They show up rain, sunshine, snow or sleet," said Bernadette Leceese, who helps organize the Challenger for approximately 40 fourth and fifth-graders. "These fourth and fifth-graders have given up their recess and it's a big deal to give up their recess."

Rose Aronin, a former Church Street parent, founded the Challenger in 1994. Today, Leceese and other PTA volunteers help guide fourth and fifth-graders through the pitching, researching, writing and editing process about once a week. They also collect submissions from those not yet in fourth-grade from the PTA mailbox and organize a January, March and June edition.

"The goal is to teach the kids skills while they write about something they're passionate about," said Leceese, whose daughter is in fourth-grade at Church Street.

The Challenger also helps students learn about the fabric of White Plains by sending young reporters to interview a White Plains police officer, a local mail man and talk to with Superintendent Christopher Clouet about the sixth-grade academy, Leceese said.  Above all, she said the afternoons in the computer room helps kids take pride in their work.

"Most of the teachers allow their students to read the articles in front of the class and do a Q-and-A," Leceese said. "These kids were almost like celebrities. They came back and told me kids were stopping them in the hallway. It's very rewarding for all of us."

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