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Shopping for Holiday Stories? Hit the Mall

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With most schools closed until after the New Year, the holidays can be a dry spell on the education beat. But there’s no shortage of ideas for creative reporters who are willing to venture into less-familiar territory.

Your first stop – the mall. Take a look at who’s working the cash registers, particularly at the women’s clothing stores. In many places, the answer is teachers, especially younger ones who are lower down on a district’s pay scale. Some stores even have special benefits programs specifically for local educators, offering flexible hours during vacations and the summer months. Ask your local teachers’ union how many of its members regularly moonlight at a second job, and why.

Next up: Where are the students? It’s common practice for school districts offer “winter camp” enrichment programs to let students explore a new topic in depth, such as astronomy, robotics or ecology. And while keeping kids engaged and learning is clearly a benefit, these programs are often important for families that rely on schools as a safe place for their children to be during the workday. Find out what the most popular programs are, and who’s leading them. Are the classes being monitored by district teachers earning extra pay, or is a local nonprofit providing the holiday staffing?

The holiday break can also be a great time to jump-start bigger reporting projects that often take a backseat during busier days when school is in session. When was the last time you made an open records request to your school district or state education department? A good place to start is our Reporter Guide, which provides step-by-step guidance to make the most of your digging.

And finally, don’t forget to hit the local library. It’s a great place to find high schoolers working on their common applications and financial-aid forms for college, as well as parents looking for material to keep their kids busy during the break. This can be a good time to hand out your business cards and remind people that you’re always interested in hearing about a good story – no matter the season.