SO sixth-grader becomes newest Scholastic reporter

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — When the next issue of “Scholastic News” hits classrooms, there’s a good chance that South Orange resident Liset Zacker will have a byline in it. A new Kid Reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, the 11-year-old will be covering current events, breaking news and entertainment for the publisher’s educational classroom magazine. Liset’s stories will be published online and occasionally in print, being read by more than 25 million students around the country.

“I want to be a writer when I grow up, so I thought it would be a really great idea to try it out,” Liset, a sixth grader at South Orange Middle School, said in an interview with the News-Record on Sept 27.

To be accepted into the program, Liset had to submit a sample news story, an essay about why she wanted to be a Kid Reporter and several ideas for future stories. Her sample story was about gun violence and how it affects her community, especially at Columbia High School, and Liset is currently working on her first story for Scholastic News Kids Press Corps about the need for libraries in schools and communities.

She is one of three Kid Reporters from New Jersey and 45 from around the world. The writers work with Suzanne McCabe, the editor of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, to pitch and write their stories.

“It gives a voice to those who don’t have a voice,” McCabe said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Sept. 26. “We have kids from all different backgrounds. It’s a diverse press corps.”

In combing through applicants, McCabe said the editors at Scholastic look for enthusiastic readers and students who can write for their peers, and that Liset has both of those qualities.

“We look for people who show enthusiasm and good writing skills,” McCabe said. “She conveyed how much she loves to read, which we look for. She can have a point of view from a kid’s perspective. We choose people who can write for kids and not an adult.”

When Liset comes up with an idea for a story, she will send it to McCabe and work on coming up with interview questions. After that, she is sent out to cover the story and conduct interviews, sometimes taking photos as well. After she writes the story, McCabe works on revisions and the story is posted on the Scholastic website. If it fits with the theme of the monthly magazine, a story could run in print.

“I want to write stories. I knew that it would still be a great opportunity to practice my writing skills, although it’s an entirely different platform of writing,” Liset said. “And I also thought it would be a great experience to practice interviewing people, especially for later in life and kind of just having a conversation with people. Not just asking the person the questions, but kind of talking to them too.”

McCabe said that since the program was started in 2000, about a dozen former members of the Kids Press Corps whom she knows of have gone on to become reporters or news producers. One with whom she is still in touch works for NBC, and many have gone into related communications fields.

While Liset will spend her school year flashing her press pass and conducting interviews, she eventually wants to write young adult novels. She’s been around books her whole life, and as an avid reader wants to see her own name on the cover of a book.

“My mom is a literary agent, so I’ve read all throughout my childhood and when me and my two sisters were younger, she would always read to us at night,” Liset said. “I’ve kind of grown in my reading level a lot quicker than other kids and that’s also really helped my writing.”

Liset has been able to tie in what she’s reading to the stories that she pitches to McCabe — right now Liset is reading “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas, and it has inspired her to write about diversity and representation in young adult novels.

“I’m reading ‘The Hate U Give’ right now and I really like it,” Liset said. “I had an idea to write an article about the importance of representation in books and also since the movie is coming out really soon. I thought that it would be really relevant to kids because they would know about it and it would be kind of fresh in their minds.”

That viewpoint is what McCabe said she loves seeing when working with young writers. The students in the press corps are writing for an audience that is the same age as they are, which gives them an opportunity to talk to their peers.

“I love to get their perspective and see the way they see the world,” McCabe said about working with students between the ages of 10 and 14. “You forget that their perspective is so different from the way an adult sees the world. They become so excited and their confidence grows. This program makes kids incredibly savvy about issues their generation is facing and I’m impressed by how mature they are.”

Liset’s father, Doug Zacker, echoed McCabe, saying that children often have completely different ideas than adults do, and that “Scholastic News” gives them an outlet to share these viewpoints while also allowing adults to hear them.

“It’s nice to see kids that age and how they approach lots of these difficult topics that I don’t think adults give them enough credit for really thinking through,” Doug Zacker said in an interview with the News-Record on Sept. 27. “I think at times, they think it through in more meaningful ways than adults because they’re thinking it through without all the baggage of life.”

Writing for “Scholastic News” is giving Liset a way to write more often and in a place outside her English class.

“I always like the idea of creating stories that people could kind of lose themselves in,” she said. “And when I was younger I kind of realized that I should be a writer because in elementary whenever the teacher said ‘write a fictional story’ and I would always be the one that wrote the longest. Obviously that doesn’t mean that you should be a writer, but I would just have a page of one scene with so much detail in it. And I realized at that moment that I knew that, not only did I want to be a writer, but I knew that I was good at writing.”

Photos Courtesy of Doug Zacker