When the Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) Lower & Middle School newspaper The Gator Gazette was founded it was out of necessity: students and faculty needed a way to stay connected and informed during Covid and remote learning. But the value of the paper extended beyond being a way for remote learners to stay in touch—it became a vital creative outlet for students from the lower school through eighth grade to contribute news, opinion, and learn the craft of journalism.
What started as a group of four class representatives cranking out the monthly digital newspaper has over the years grown into a 25-member club, or “guild,” that meets weekly during lunchtime to produce a paper that contains regular sections like STEM, Arts & Culture, Current News, as well as varied opinion pieces, art, poetry, and literature.
“The original goal for The Gator Gazette was to provide a way for the community to come together; most of the content in the beginning was very light and fun, like we had a ‘pet corner’—just providing something entertaining for everybody to read,” said Abigail Dusane (SHS ’27), The Gator Gazette editor-in-chief. “It was a way for myself and other class reps to do something fun other than sitting at our desks on Zoom calls.”
Now with a dozen regular members and contributors who are committed to attending weekly meetings in the Middle School art room, The Gator Gazette has become more robust in length and content; each member is cross-trained in everything from copy editing and layout, to news writing and photography. And there’s flexibility for another dozen or so members who can’t attend the weekly meetings regularly, which allows for wider diversity of opinion, says Dusane.
Athena Ogawa (SHS ’28), assistant editor of The Gator Gazette, enjoys the leadership opportunities that being on the paper affords, as well as sharpening a host of skills that will further her journalism career in high school and potentially beyond.
“Being on the paper for three years, my photography has definitely improved, and my writing has improved along with my grammar,” said Ogawa. “Confidence-wise and leadership-wise, it’s really helped a lot. I was able to learn how to say, ‘I need you to come help me,’ and to put myself out there when photographing or interviewing other students.”
The Gator Gazette guild is mentored by several advisors—Middle School art teacher Lauren DiCioccio, LMS Dean of Students & Community Life Wendy Kridel, and LMS Assistant Principal of Student Life Sarah Coogan, whose idea it was to start the paper.
“I have watched our students grow in so many ways through their involvement with The Gator Gazette,” said DiCioccio. “Working closely on a creative project is one of the best ways to build relationships—from bouncing around ideas to making editorial decisions about content, students in the group have been able to build trust and share commitment through their involvement in our guild.”
Creating and sustaining The Gator Gazette is an “act of generosity and care for celebrating the diverse beauty of our LMS community,” says DiCioccio.
As educators, she and Kridel tie in the school’s Goals and Criteria throughout their mentorship of the guild, particularly Goal II, Criterion 1, that states "Sacred Heart educators and students engage in challenging experiences that inspire intellectual curiosity, a global mindset and a life-long love of learning."
“The work students are doing to build the newspaper each month is an excellent demonstration of this concept in action,” said DiCioccio. “As a reader, it's a joy to appreciate how each article, illustration, and interview comes together into something beautiful month after month. Watching our eighth graders drive this student newspaper from its playful creation during Covid remote learning to the established, on-campus presence the paper holds today has been inspiring.”