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Teen newspaper Simpson Street Free Press set for expansion
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Teen newspaper Simpson Street Free Press set for expansion

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Madison's award-winning teen newspaper plans to expand its after-school journalism program to help raise low-income and minority student achievement.

The Simpson Street Free Press, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, plans to double the size of its headquarters at South Towne Mall, 2411 W. Broadway.

It recently opened a satellite newsroom at Glendale Elementary and is announcing Wednesday the opening of a third location at Capital Newspapers, 1901 Fish Hatchery Road, home of the State Journal and Capital Times. The site will serve about a dozen students from Wright Middle School.

The Free Press also wants to expand its network of book clubs to help encourage more young people to read. Altogether the organization hopes to double the number of students served from 100 last year to 200 this year, executive director Jim Kramer said.

"Part of this vision is using young people in the front lines in the fight against the achievement gap," Kramer said. "We've developed a formula that gets kids excited about practical academics during after-school time."

The Simpson Street model, which in 2008 received a national award sponsored by the White House, uses journalism methods to help predominantly minority students improve their writing, spelling, grammar, research and organizational skills.

Students as early as fifth grade receive story assignments, ranging from the history of the Egyptian pyramids to what's happening in their school, and then research, outline, write and edit articles that appear in a regular print publication. A collection of program graduates and adult volunteers assists with editing.

The assignments mimic research papers the students might write in school, but with the appealing addition of having a part-time job with a desk, business cards and a printed byline, Kramer said.

The program has had twice as many students apply in recent years as there have been spots available, but with more former participants continuing to work with the program it is able to expand. Kramer hopes to add a fourth site somewhere in Dane County by the end of the year.

Deidre Green, a UW-Madison senior and managing editor at Simpson Street, said the most important course she took in high school was her job at the newspaper. She plans to pursue a business degree and help lead the organization's possibly future expansion to other cities in the state and possibly beyond.

"It's a pipeline of academic success and community service," she said. "We might not have a lot of money, but we have a system that really works."

The expansion is being made possible with support from the Madison Community Foundation, American Girl Fund for Children, The Evjue Foundation, Nimick-Forbesway Foundation, the Madison chapters of Altrusa International and Kiwanis, and Friends of Simpson Street Free Press. Kramer declined to say how much the additional programming would cost.

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