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Special needs students craft school's paper

by JESSICA BOCK Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - With her pen poised and ready to write, the reporter waited patiently for her interview subject to respond.

The question was about what he wanted to do after high school, and Dorian DeShay, who has cerebal palsy, was using a machine to help him answer.

"Slow down, Dorian," Jami Murphy said softly. She was writing the story for the student newspaper at Neuwoehner High, part of the Special School District of St. Louis County.

Dorian, another Neuwoehner student, can be difficult to understand. He doesn't always use the machine to have conversations, and nervously searched for the right buttons to push. After a few more tries, the word "apartment" popped up on Dorian's screen. Jami talked to him more about why he was excited about having his own apartment someday, finished taking notes and headed back to newspaper class.

Her classmates were putting the final touches on the December issue of "NeuNews," believed to be the first newspaper of its kind at Neuwoehner High. The stories feature students at the school, all of whom have special needs - including the staff writing and putting together the paper.

Teachers Stephanie Dillon and Elizabeth Hutchcraft wanted to start a newspaper at the school. They realized Neuwoehner doesn't have many electives or clubs like typical high schools. They wanted to share student stories and wanted the students to be proud of their school, which isn't always the case.

They also saw it as a learning opportunity for the five kids they recruited to be on staff. Though the five who put out the newspaper this semester are among the highest-functioning at the high school, the students each have their own disabilities and challenges, such as attention problems or autism.

"The unknown is very scary for them," Dillon said. "A year ago, we couldn't have sent them out (to do interviews). They wouldn't have done it, or they would have done it inappropriately. This has given them challenges and helped them achieve new goals."

The teachers realized putting out a newspaper was going to require the students not only to develop their writing, but use social skills and meet deadlines.

Jami said the newspaper has taught her responsibility and patience in class, where emotions can run high, especially with critiques of their work through editing and the pressure of deadlines.

"I think we all kind of realized we shouldn't be fighting, we should be working towards our higher purpose and getting the newspaper together," she said.

Shea Marks learned about deadlines the hard way - missing one cost him a story. The class is probably one of the hardest he's taken, he said on a recent day as he plugged away at his latest effort.

Assistant Principal John Miller said many of the students on the newspaper staff didn't always communicate positively with their teachers.

Since starting the newspaper, he can see a change.

"They've really opened up a lot more," he said. "They might be having a hard day, but ask them about a story they're working on, and I can see the pride there."

Killian McCarthy has written about different disabilities in each issue. Getting to know each other through stories in the paper hopefully has helped students learn about the challenges others face, he said.

"I've seen them looking around the school, saying "Why is that kid acting that way?" he said.

If they knew more about someone's disability, they would realize how that kind of behavior is related, he said.

A year ago, Killian was having a hard time finding motivation to go to school and stayed home a lot.

"He didn't miss a single day this year," said his mom, Teresa Chivers. "He wanted to get there and be there for newspaper."

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