Sunday, March 3, 2024

An Effective Program Comes to an End at HCSD

Last week, Dr. Juliette Pennyman shared a letter and a PowerPoint presentation documenting her first 125 days as superintendent of the Hudson City School District. A few days later, something happened that some might consider a bad move for the district: the junior journalism program known as School Life News (SLN) was expelled from Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School.

"Mr. Peter" bidding welfare on Friday to fifth-graders at MCSES
Since 2016, Peter Meyer and others involved with the not-for-profit School Life Media (SLM) have been teaching journalism to students in various grades in HCSD but primarily to middle grade students at Montgomery C. Smith. Designed and directed by Meyer, a former news editor for Life magazine and the author of numerous nonfiction books, the School Life News program taught students how to research, report, write, edit, and publish newspapers and in the process honed their literacy skills and developed their career skills. Students in Meyer's journalism program bettered their reading and writing skills, as evidenced by higher test scores. After the first year of the program, Dr. Maria Suttmeier, then HCSD superintendent, provided this assessment:
SLM [delivers] evidence-based instruction on gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. After witnessing the positive impact School Life Media has had on our young students during its pilot year, the journalism program has gained strong support and respect from our teachers.
In 2018, the School Life Media journalism program got the attention of the New York Times: "Promoting Literacy with Journalism Education and the New York Times." 

In 2019, Michael Saltz, longtime senior producer for the PBS NewsHour, was invited to be a guest in one of Meyer's journalism classes. During the session, a sample of Saltz's work as a TV news producer was shown, students asked him questions in the form of a press conference, they took notes of what he said, and each wrote a news story about the event. Saltz wrote about his experience in a My View that appeared in the Register-Star: "Are you smarter than a fifth-grader?" The following is quoted from that piece:
If you think about it, as I did for the first time after Peter told me what he was doing, the skills of a journalist or reporter lie at the entry point of every academic experience and social interaction we encounter throughout our lives. . . .
What these fifth graders were learning wasn't merely something about me and my job, but, rather, a way to approach life, a fact-based approach.

Saltz's entire essay can be found here

The School Life Media journalism program also won the attention and admiration of Bruce Porter, retired professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Porter wrote the following letter to Pennyman praising the program and arguing for its continuance: 
I'll try not to take up much of your time, just enough to plead that you return Peter Meyer's remarkable journalism class to the HCSD curriculum. It was a brilliant idea that he proposed some six years ago, to turn the fifth grade into a team of reporters. It caught on immediately with the kids as well as the teachers and will leave a lamentable hole if you let it go.
I've not actually witnessed Peter's class, but I've seen how the students equip themselves, sallying forth with their press passes and the notebooks, how eagerly they apply the rules of inquiring as to Who? What? When? Where? and Why? "The 5Ws are the gateway to understanding and knowledge"--this from Mike Saltz, retired senior producer of the PBS NewsHour, who wrote in the Register-Star about his grilling by Peter's little crew. "The more we learn to incorporate them into our lives the better able we are to learn, to read, and write, and do arithmetic, the better able we are to interact with our fellow human beings and the world around us."
In having at him, Saltz wrote, the students went straight for the facts. "How long have I worked? Where did I start? How old was I? Am I married? Do I have siblings? Later, they each wrote a news story, often accompanied by pictures they drew. . . . What they were learning wasn't merely something about me, but rather a way to approach life, a fact-based approach."
What's more, it was fun, as well as a turn-on. That's what actual learning turns into, not the dreary exercise in rote that students have come to expect. . . .
Like Peter, I've spent much of my own life as a working journalist, and also as a journalism professor at the Columbia J-School. I retired before the current political battle began over the role that facts play in the survival of this country. We need to train the next generation in the search for truth, and it's not too early to start with the fifth grade in Hudson. For this you need to give Peter Meyer back his course!
Since its beginning in 2016, SLN has delivered several dozen programs to more than fifty classrooms and several hundred HCSD students in Grades 3 through 6. Last year, a 9th-grade class was included.

Commenting on the current situation, Meyer told Gossips, "Being thrown out was quite a blow for me and the program; no warning, no explanation, no thank you. Too bad for the kids, who have been making literacy improvements all along with SLN." Meyer added, "We still have a class in 6th grade, thanks to Principal Rhode Cooper, but it's not being used for the literacy-challenged kids that the program was created to serve."


  1. To whom can we direct our letters of support for this program?

    1. I would imagine the superintendent:

      Dr. Juliette Pennyman
      Superintendent of Schools
      215 Harry Howard Ave.
      Hudson, NY 12534

  2. That decision is a shame. The more facts and truth in journalism the better and better to start at an early age. Enough of propaganda.

  3. Nice job there Peter. Were you given any reason for this move? The cost cannot be the main factor. An educational program that students will benefit from for the rest of their lives gets cut. Nothing new there as far as HCSD is concerned.

  4. Thanks Tom. Very strange. Without getting into the fight that you and our previous +1 Supt got into, I want to say that I attended a meeting a few months ago, of a current BOE committee meeting about "curriculum standards" and was told that your program back then ("the trailers" at Greenport) was "racist" .... and I tell you that this is what we are up against: lies. In fact, your program in the trailers saved lives. And I thank thank you.

    I have fought against this lie for years, but it has to be dissociated from Maria and her ten years of solid, consistent, and forward-thinking policies.

    We need to get this back.

  5. It's interesting how the alternative school in the trailers at Greenport (3 high school classes, regular courses) some 15 years ago met the same fate as our School Life News program just met, for almost the same reason; someone on the board had a personal grudge against the fellow in charge of that program and lobbied the board to close it (ostensibly to save money). It was a disaster for the kids and resulted in one of the more sensational front-page headlines in my 30 years in Hudson: "Fight at HHS; principal suspended."

  6. Peter (PBM) is a sensationalist and a liar, what do you know of what black and brown families measure as a success Peter? You show up to meetings drunk and mean and considers anyone who doesn't get with your program or way of thinking a menace. The truth is you only care to push your "program" and fatten your pockets. The money you received over these years is nothing to the emptiness these kids face from programs like yours trying to solve a "problem" children are not problems to be solved they are humans with needs.

    BTW, that trailer program was racist AF and you the administrators used them to continue to marginalized children who already are receiving less than in everyday life. Then you want them to go to those slavery huts you called classrooms to be educated GTFOH. No one wants to ever see that type of programming back HUDSON.

    And you are welcome to see me at the BOE meeting on 3/12/24 PBM if you want to discuss it in person. The last time you showed up with your program material I wanted to cry for the children who wasted valuable time doing something that wasn't void of creative meaningful work.

  7. I would love to know who is writing all these lies and liables and don't have time to take them all on. But I do hope PJ reveals his/her self and produces evidence, especially if she/he is inviting me to meet him/her at a BOE meeting. Will the 3-minute apply to both of us? And finally, since I happen to have been on the board when the alternative classrooms at Greenport were put in the trailers, toured them many times, and talked to the kids, a very "diverse" group (in the parlance of today), who told me they liked the program, I would love to see PJ's evidence that they were any more or less racist than the district was at the time. And I certainly don't mind listing the many projects I have been involved in these last 25 years working for Hudson's wonderful African-American community. I pray for these kids every day. --peter meyer