It’s breakfast at the Shulman home: my father is perusing The Wall Street Journal, my mother is flipping through The New York Times, my sister is reading The New Yorker, and I am scrolling through Lexington Weekly.
Every week, I eagerly await the email with the catchy subject line: “Lexington Weekly Has Gone to Press!” Lexington Weekly is my school’s current events blog. (What? Your school doesn’t have one?) Lexington Weekly — coined for our school’s location off of Lexington Avenue —acts as a forum to educate students on recent news stories and allows them to share their opinion in a public comment section. Our school’s history chair, Mrs. Jackie Rosensweig, oversees the blog with the help of three student editors. I recently interviewed Mrs. Rosensweig and the student editors on Lexington Weekly’s inception, the process of putting out a weekly news blog and the benefits of having a current events blog for the school.
When Mrs. Rosensweig began teaching at Manhattan High School for Girls, she was encouraged by Mrs. Estee Friedman-Stefansky, the general studies principal, to incorporate current events into her class. In order to preserve precious class time, Mrs. Rosensweig created a Google folder for her class with different news articles for them to read and respond to. This transformed into the school-wide current events blog by the spring of the following year.
Each week, every member of the student body is required to read one of four articles and to comment a response. Students can view their peers’ comments and reply with a seconding or a reckoning. The blog is password protected, accessible exclusively to the student and parent body. The articles come from reputable news sources and are condensed or summarized by the student editors. As news tends to be, the articles cover a vast range of different topics, such as technology, space travel, politics, business, economics and so on. Mrs. Rosensweig and the student editors keep their eyes out for newsworthy articles and choose the best four to post on the blog.
What makes news Lexington Weekly worthy? Mrs. Rosensweig explained that she tries to avoid including natural disasters, which, although devastating, provoke one-dimensional reactions and leave little room for analysis and debate. “I prefer for the blog to cover stories that the students can mentally engage in, in some way or another,” she said. “I also have pet topics that I love to include because I don’t want them to fall off the radar, and that’s why we cover quite a bit about Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars and space travel.”
Once the topics are set, the student editors divvy up the articles among themselves. Mia Lubetski, one of the student editors, said that she and her fellow editors have a competition to see who’s article will receive the most comments. (As for this week, Mia is in the lead!)
Every week, Mrs. Rosensweig reads all the comments to check that each student is reading and responding to one of the articles. She admits that although it is a huge time commitment, some of the comments are quite interesting. “All too often, I will completely disagree with most of the students, but they never know that,” she added.
I find that this blog is an effective replacement for a current events lesson in the classroom. Besides for taking up valuable class time (which, in my AP History class, is time we cannot spare), a current events lesson is usually perceived as a “break” from learning and is therefore not taken seriously. Mrs. Rosensweig also pointed out that “since news cycles are unpredictable — sometimes there is a lot going on, sometimes hardly anything — it can be difficult to prepare a designated current events class that is consistent in quality and taken seriously.” The blog is also a more interactive way of getting your news and allows everyone to voice their opinion, a luxury that the classroom setting cannot always afford.
The ability to create an argument, substantiate it with evidence and communicate it peacefully and effectively to peers is pretty much exactly the kind of critical-thinking communication skill that is the bedrock of a high school education.
Writing comments on the blog can even build important skills. “The blog teaches you how to write for more than just your teacher. When others see your comment, they may learn something new and they can be more open-minded in general,” said Etta Feuer, a student editor. “It allows for friendly discussion and debate that is ultimately very low stakes.” The blog very often develops into a discussion among students who hold differing views. Mrs. Rosensweig explained that “the ability to create an argument, substantiate it with evidence and communicate it peacefully and effectively to peers is pretty much exactly the kind of critical-thinking communication skill that is the bedrock of a high school education.” While posting a comment for the whole school to see seems nerve-wracking, the students are nothing but supportive and open to new perspectives. Some peers have even texted me that they liked my comment. (Nothing is more satisfying than being complimented on your Lexington Weekly comment.)
I concluded my interview by asking Mrs. Rosensweig why it is important to be informed about current events. She believes that it is critical to “never to lose sight of this question,” which is why many of blog posts have included the question: “why do you think this news is significant to know about or care about (or not)?” She continued: “Each of us is one person, one individual, one citizen, one Jewish person and we live in a world that is a huge system that acts upon us in so many ways. News can teach us in many ways. It can teach us empathy. It can inspire us to activism. It can inform us about technology, economics and career directions. It can give us a sense of membership and belonging on planet earth. It can awaken us to understand the uniqueness of the Jewish experience, and the universality of the human experience. It can remind us of our critical privileges as (soon-to-be) voting citizens. I can go on.”
Although my school does not endorse social media, they hope that this blog can teach students how to responsibly approach an online domain.
At the end of the year, the school compiles a select few of the Lexington Weekly comments into a publication, entitled: Views on the News. After each comment I write, I have my mother (and then my father and then my brother and then my sister) proofread it, hoping to get published. A full ride scholarship to Harvard is nothing compared to being featured in “Views on the News.” Well, I am glad to report that I have made it in, and I have never felt so proud. But, Harvard, if you are reading this, I’ll still take that scholarship.
Chani Shulman is a junior at Manhattan High School for Girls. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.