By Logan Garnett | Uvalde Leader-News
For as long as she’s been an educator, Jill Thompson has used newspapers in her classrooms.
“I can teach any subject you want with a paper — calculus, geometry, reading — anything,” the La Pryor Elementary School principal said recently.
“Just give me a newspaper and I can do it.”
Including her two years at La Pryor, Thompson has been a teacher for 18 years and an administrator for seven, teaching first in Abilene then Lubbock then Round Rock, just north of Austin. At each campus she used a local paper to illustrate important lessons.
Outside of the classroom, she even used newspapers to teach her two sons not only about reading, but also math.
“They were both jocks who had no interest in math,” she said. “So I would get the sports pages and use the scores and standings and other numbers to teach them fractions and dividing."
She also hit upon the curative power of reading, explaining that she always keeps a newspaper in her office for students to read before talking to her about a particular problem.
“It lets them read for a while to calm down and soothe the nerves ... really lowers the blood pressure,” she said.
Thompson does rely on textbooks, but she feels that the ever-changing content of the newspaper is helpful when teaching current events.
For instance, during the late 1960s, while the Vietnam War was still grinding along, Thompson recalled learning about centuries-old events, which she found somewhat impractical.
“My history teacher, who was also my coach, was teaching us about the Revolutionary War and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to know about this; I want to know about what’s going on right now. I want to know about Vietnam,’” she recalled. “If we had had papers we could have done that.”
During her days teaching in Lubbock, Thompson said she had students use the classified advertisement section of the paper to locate a job, determine its salary and then calibrate a yearly budget based on their income and the prices of items advertised in the newspaper.
“It covered about everything — economics, social studies, science ... it was like a whole other reality,” Thompson said of the exercise.
Born and raised in Knox City, Thompson said that her parents were adamant about reading and received both the Fort Worth and Abilene newspapers, which they in turn used to educate the family.
In 1995 Thompson was nominated by parents of her students and fellow teachers and honored for her use of newspapers in her curriculum and continues to use them constantly.
“It’s all I need,” she said of the paper as a teaching tool.
Recently, Thompson used a prompt from the Kid’s Scoop section of the Uvalde Leader-News to create a contest for her students.
They must first draw the outline of a pickle on a green piece of paper and then use facial features like eyes, ears and noses cut out from the newspaper to give faces to their individual pickles.
At the end of the project, Thompson said she plans on buying actual pickles as a reward for the students’ participation.
“I’m going to get the big barrels of them ... I go all out,” she said.
Thompson said test scores have gone up at every campus where she has used newspapers as teaching aids and her primary concern now is securing enough papers to outfit the entire school, something she hopes to do through the Leader-News’ Newspapers In Education program.
The program, which uses volunteer donations to supply campuses with newspapers as well as guidelines for incorporating the paper into lesson plans, has been offered by the Leader-News for the past four years.
“If we could just get 60 or so papers each time that would be wonderful,” she said.
Any business or individual interested in sponsoring Thompson’s school or any other teacher’s class should contact the newspaper and ask to speak with NIE representative Olga Charles or Logan Garnett.