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I encourage you to take a special look at 'The Quest Times,' a six-page section full of content completely produced by students

When I was first hired as a Central Oregonian reporter 12 years ago, I remember taking home nearly every new issue that was produced. I could try to save face and tell you that it was because I was a total news junkie and highly invested in what was going on in the community. But the embarrassing truth is that I was just really excited to see my name on an actual newspaper article byline. It was all ego.

As time passed, the papers piled up – quickly – and the novelty of seeing my name at the top of an article waned … at least enough to make me much more selective in what I took home and kept.

I bring this up because I like to think that it is still a special thing to see your name attached to something that is consumed by the public. Whether it's on the cover of a book (my childhood dream, fingers crossed), on the credits of a movie, or on an article in the ol' community newspaper, there's just something about seeing your name on something that will become a piece of local history.

For that reason, it was a pleasure to put numerous bylines belonging to dozens of third and fourth graders into print this week. As you peruse this newspaper, I invite and encourage you to take a special look at "The Quest Times," a six-page section full of content completely produced by students at the new Steins Pillar Elementary School.

From my vantage point, the whole journey from a unique curriculum idea to a special insert in the Central Oregonian began right around the same time as the current school year. General Manager Angie Bernard and I were contacted in early September by fourth grade teacher Janelle Deedon. She had an idea for a new storyline quest curriculum.

For those who aren't aware, a storyline or quest is essentially a curriculum that is built around a particular story. In the past, elementary school students have learned basic school subjects while acting the part of everything from park rangers to dog sledders to paleontologists. Early in the curriculum, they are introduced to a key figure – usually portrayed by an adult who is connected to the storyline's profession – and this individual presents a need or a problem that the students are asked to help resolve.

I have covered these storylines from time to time and have always enjoyed how creative the teachers get and how engrossed the kids get in the story. What I didn't expect was that our newspaper would become the focus of a storyline, that I would be that key figure that launches a special quest.

But in early September, there I was getting coached by Mrs. Deedon on an upcoming Zoom call (no in-person appearance because of COVID) where I would tell students in three classrooms that we needed their help to tell the stories of our community for the local newspaper.

It was fun, and I like to think that my acting skills rivaled some of the greats in motion picture and Broadway history. After the short appeal to the students, I was thanked for my participation, and the students began their journalism journey.

We gladly supplied the classes with recent issues of the Central Oregonian for them to look over and use as an example of community news. They got to learn all about researching, story-writing and other essentials, and by the time they were all done, the students in Mrs. Deedon's fourth grade class, Dr. Topper's third and fourth grade class, and Mr. Lysne's third grade class had produced numerous articles spanning a variety of topics.

When my brief acting debut had concluded early in the process, I wasn't sure when or if I would participate in the quest curriculum any further. There was talk of a field trip at the newspaper office, but COVID nixed that idea, so the future was up in the air.

Fortunately, when our publisher, Tony Ahern, got wind of what was going on, he suggested we find a way to print whatever the students produced. That idea, thankfully, gained traction and shortly after winter break concluded, we were gifted the final copy of the kids' work.

Now came my second moment of participating in the journalism quest – laying out news pages for a whopping 60 news stories! And a few photos. And I wanted to make it look pretty.

Hopefully, I have done the kids proud. I hope they get the same pleasure in seeing their bylines in print that I did and maybe, just maybe, some of them will want to feel that thrill again someday as an adult. Because communities will always have stories to tell, and we will need people to tell them. It's a worthwhile quest.


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