AMHERST, Ma. – Supportive family and friends cheered the hard work and wonderful stories of the Amherst Student “staff” Wednesday after the roll-out of the “newspaper’s” April Fools edition. “Great job,” numerous attendees told the publication’s writers over a celebratory “feast” of Chex Mix and Lorna Doones in the Student’s makeshift “newsroom” as educators urged the team to give itself “a big round of applause.”
The Student, a charitable project of The Amherst Muck-Rake, aims to provide “some of the Pioneer Valley’s very special writers” – ages 5 to 9 – with basic compositional instruction in a fun and caring after-school environment. Guided by actual Muck-Rake editorial staff, the program’s young participants develop early creative writing skills through an engaging, age-appropriate introduction to journalism.
Always the pinnacle of the program’s year, the humor edition’s unveiling marks the culmination of The Student’s most popular “journalistic” assignment, and Wednesday’s party was no exception. “I wrote two articles,” announced Student “editor-in-chief” Brianda Reyes, 7, before wrapping her fingers around her eyes to form binoculars and declaring sternly, “I’m a reporter!”
Muck-Rake employees said that this year’s April Fools issue had been in the works for over three months. “It takes a while for the kids to get the hang of satire, such as it is, when they lack core compositional skills,” said one Muck-Rake editor, who, like all of his fellow instructors, supports The Student on a volunteer basis. “Of course, the product reflects that.”
Several instructors expressed concern that some of the submissions appeared to be crude reproductions of actual Muck-Rake articles.
“The knock-offs were obvious,” said a volunteer from Muck-Rake en Español. ‘Beer Pong Table Sale, Presented by Dean Boykin-East and the Amherst College Police’? That’s just ‘Boykin-East Making Pretty Good Money Selling Pong Tables on eBay,’ but less entertaining.”
The volunteer also noted similarities between The Student’s “’Riot,’ UMass” “Five College Event” and The Muck-Rake’s “UMass Students Riot in Celebration of Murder-Free Day,” but acknowledged that the Student article’s absence of The Muck-Rake’s implicit comparison between the university and New York City left the two stories readily distinguishable.
“I can take the riot thing,” said another Muck-Rake volunteer. “But ‘Sarat Leaves Amherst, Begins Tenure as Pope’? That’s just ‘Arkes Elected Pope’ five weeks late and wildly less logical, replete with the whole ‘culmination’ quip and everything. Plus, that whole bit about Sarat giving up his office for a vastly nicer renovation? Does ‘Sarat Overseeing 1.7 Million Office Renovation’ ring a bell?”
“But what am I saying?” observed the volunteer. “They’re just kids.”
Despite those frustrations, volunteers agreed they were proud of the Student writers’ work overall and even found several submissions to be funny. “That Mount Holyoke ad?” recalled a Muck-Rake sales executive. “I almost thought Mount Holyoke was trying to get me to pay to learn Chinese in a month. That was clever.”
Student instructors and staff concluded their celebration with fond farewells while a receptionist attempted to coax “editor” Christopher Friend, 5, from the corner of the room, where he had resorted to bellowing when the young staff was told to vacate.
“All in all, I think this was a great success,” said a Muck-Rake volunteer as tired Amherst Student staff returned home for the night. “I think these little guys learned a lot, and some of them even have promise.”