Oasis Tutor Aaron Epstein with student journalists

Thou Shalt Not Bore The Reader.

That’s the first commandment for everyone in the newsroom of The Blue and Gold, the official newspaper of Murch Elementary School in Washington, DC.

The reporters are fourth and fifth graders, and their editor-in-chief is Aaron Epstein, a retired professional reporter and editor. He runs a tight ship.

“I teach the students to practice the basics of journalism: accuracy, terseness, clarity, readability, interviewing, self-criticism, rewriting and meeting deadlines,” says Aaron. He sees the kids once a week, working with them as a group and one-on-one.

“They have to write many drafts and meet certain standards. I have to push them to talk to others. I try to remember that they are only 9 and 10, and I know I have to be careful about their feelings.”

Aaron’s idea for the newspaper came while he was already in the school, volunteering as an Oasis Intergenerational Tutor, something he’s done for 15 years. In his tutoring capacity, he works with younger children, but finds that he’s really drawn to the older kids, fourth and fifth graders.

Blue and Gold Newspaper CoverThe Blue and Gold is going strong after seven years, and Aaron is very proud of his young reporters. In fact, he has no problem at all giving examples of the impressive lengths to which these journalists-in-the-making will go for a good story.

  • Two fifth graders went to the nearby home of a professional author of children’s books and found out what the author was writing at their age.
  • The fourth grader who reviewed the school lunches for three weeks and dared to write that one meal consisted of “chicken that was hard to chew, cornbread that was dry and difficult to swallow, and mashed potatoes that were far to greasy for my taste.”
  • The entire Blue and Gold staff, who politely but firmly peppered the architect of the school’s $65 million modernization project with dozens of prepared questions and produced a lively, timely, informative and newsworthy report for the front page.

While wearing his Oasis tutoring hat, Aaron encourages his younger students to write their own stories.

“This year, for the first time, my two public school activities merged: three fiction stories produced by kids in my Oasis tutoring sessions were so good that they were published in the June 2016 issue of The Blue and Gold.

I urge other Oasis tutors to sharpen their focus on writing — and think of ways to use their skills to enhance their educational impact at the schools where they tutor.”