Meet A Chapel Hill Seventh Grader Making and Breaking News

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Smith Middle schooler Max Chen joined a global cohort of 29 young journalists in the Scholastic Kids Press program

Seventh grader Max Chen is interviewed by former Scholastic kid reporter (and East Chapel Hill High School sophomore) Teresa Fang at Joe Van Gogh in Chapel Hill.

By Teresa Fang | Photography by John Michael Simpson

While many kids dream of becoming an astronaut or doctor in the future, seventh grader Max Chen is already a budding journalist. Along with playing tennis, cello and learning how to code, his hobbies also include writing.

Now, the Smith Middle School student is taking part in a unique opportunity that allows him to share his writing with other kids as part of the Scholastic Kids Press program. He is one of 29 kid reporters this school year, all aged 10-14 and based across the globe.

The program, which started in 2000, works with young journalists to write “news for kids, by kids” – that’s anything from politics, entertainment, the environment, sports and more, both in their hometowns and on the national stage. Suzanne McCabe, the New York City-based editor of Scholastic Kids Press, says it was a “great idea to have kids tell the story to their peers because young people love to listen to someone their own age.”

The journey to join the cohort was rigorous. “We look for curiosity, good interviewing skills, good writing skills, critical thinking, [an openness] to all ideas and just an interest in sharing the stories that may not get told otherwise,” Suzanne says. Applicants had to think of a topic for a story, conduct interviews and write an article to submit to the judges at Scholastic.

For many kids like Max, inspiration came from their own community. “I decided to find a topic that was close to home,” he says. “I really enjoyed my orchestra class, and I thought it would be interesting for kids to know the importance of music.” He interviewed his music teachers during his first-ever interviews.

Upon his acceptance into the program, Max wrote his first article covering Election Day in Chapel Hill. He says he was nervous in the beginning but soon found himself in the groove while in action. “I kept pestering my dad about how I should approach the volunteers [at the polling place],” he says. “Once I got there though, I thought it was really fun. You don’t feel nervous once you start talking to real people. Everyone was nice, and they even congratulated me on my interview when I finished.” When he settled down to write, Max says he felt accomplished.

“What I loved about Max’s first story is that he covered the election and told the story from the vantage of kids his age and the age of our readers who can’t vote,” Suzanne says. “We’re helping young people see that they have a voice, even if they’re not old enough to cast a vote. Max is very bright; he loves to read. He loves social studies. That was his first story, and he did a great job.”

Seventh grade student and kid journalist Max Chen sits with Teresa Fang to discuss the Scholastic Kids Press program.

The stories that kid reporters cover vary depending on their schedule, guidelines set by Suzanne and their own passion and responsibility for sending interview requests and writing questions. “I help them pitch articles, and I may give them or toss around ideas that they have and see which one works best for the moment,” Suzanne explains. “Then we go through the editing process back and forth. There’s much more editing needed at the beginning and almost none at the end, which is really great to see.”

This drive to write to the best of his ability, especially with a unique perspective as a student, is among the main skills that Max hopes to learn from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“My perspective as a student gives me a humble way of writing,” Max says. “I’m still learning things. So as a writer, I need to make sure my readers know that I’m also with them and not like a random adult writer who is a little bit above their reader.” He went on to describe how he applies his understanding of kids at school in his stories, describing his ideal way of writing with the word “colloquialism.”

When asked about his goals, Max says he just wanted to meet new people, including those larger than life. “I want to go into the world and learn from the people I interview,” he says. “I just hope to have a great time.” He is considering covering something related to space in a future story.

Whether these kid reporters in the Scholastic Kids Press program start their own newspapers, go on to write for high school or college publications or pursue professional careers, they are involved in a “fantastic process [that] gets young people involved in making their voices heard and thinking critically, expressing their ideas. It’s so rewarding,” Suzanne says. “That’s the wonderful part.”

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