Kearns • Kearns didn’t have a community newspaper. So a group of students decided to start one.

Since the start of the school year, the journalists who create The Cougar Claw, Kearns High School’s monthly paper, have worked to make sure their coverage spans issues that affect both their classmates and their neighbors in the metro township of about 35,000 people.

In the October issue, staffers featured a student athlete and another student who won an award. They interviewed Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, covered the opening of the Kearns Community Action Center, and introduced readers to Tito Campos, whose restaurant Rincon Salvadoreno specializes in Salvadorian cuisine and includes a bakery.

“We’ve had people reach out to us, like, ‘Where can I find one of these?’” said student Maddy Littleford, editor-in-chief.

Each month, the staff publishes 6,500 copies. About 1,000 are passed out at school, and another 5,500 issues, funded by the Kearns Metro Township Council, are distributed throughout the community.

After Utah Media Group prints and delivers the papers to the high school, the student journalists deliver the copies themselves to area businesses, the senior center, food pantry, schools and other locations.

“There’s a lot of people that live in Kearns that are older and they may not look online as much. ... So anything that’s printed, and preferably free, is just helping the community become more educated,” said Tom Glasmann, who’s taught auto shop at the high school for 23 years.

The professional printing is possible thanks to donations from Glasmann and his sisters in honor of their late father. Jay Glasmann was an owner and served as a director for the corporation that once owned the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden and Salt Lake City television station KUTV-Channel 2. After the siblings took over a foundation their father set up, Tom Glasmann said, he started supporting The Cougar Claw.

Before Thanksgiving break, the paper’s student editors formed their desks in a half-circle during class one morning to plan their first issue of 2020. They pitched story ideas, yelling “ooh” when they came up with another one. English and journalism teacher Kathryn Wilkins, who took over as the newspaper’s adviser about seven years ago, helped them focus the ideas and find a news angle.

All the editors have a page they design. Kadie Gorman is a copy editor and works on the community page, while Diana Torres is a news editor and Bailee Chapman is student life editor. The group decided who would design the cover, which includes a school story and a community story, said Caytlin Pendleton, managing editor.

“Kalika’s upcoming front page, I think, is like literally the best front page that we’ve ever had," Littleford said as she looked at Kalika Havili, student life page editor. The others agreed that Havili had “rocked it,” displaying stories about the school musical and local food pantry.

The editors take turns designing the centerfold, which has different theme each month, Littleford said. The theme of the issue they were planning that class was “blast from the past.”

“Man, this going to be such a cool issue," said Dixie Poindexter, copy editor and news editor.

Poindexter said she wants “to make a change in the world,” and journalism is a way to do that. “I feel like it’s really important to know what’s going on ... and be able to make a decision by yourself rather than having somebody who’s going to be like, ‘Yeah, this is what you should believe,'" she said.

Littleford agreed. “We can really make a difference and not only grow ourselves but help our community grow closer together,” she said. “I know that after I’m gone and graduated, I want to be able to pick up a copy of The Cougar Claw somewhere that’s not a high school."

Pendleton added: “Even though that we’re student-ran, we’re not amateurs.” There were some typos in their first issue, she said, but they want to keep progressing and "be really close to perfect by our next issue.”

Wilkins said when she started as the paper’s adviser, “nobody even knew that we had a school newspaper.” She and the staff used to print and fold the paper themselves, which resulted in lots of paper cuts, she said. For a time, they used a machine they named “Big Bertha," which now sits in a corner of the classroom, to fold the paper.

“If the Kearns’ Cougar can expand and become a community newspaper, then they can highlight kids that may go to Kearns that would never be spotlighted in a larger paper," Glasmann said.

“The kids are enthusiastic, and that’s what it’s all about," he added. “I just kind of think that [my dad is] looking down and smiling and making sure that his legacy is continuing.”

Becky Guertler, a Kearns resident, said she hopes the paper will keep growing, too. Guertler and her husband, John Guertler, met working on the newspaper at Southern Utah University, so they have a “soft spot” for what The Cougar Claw is doing. While John Guertler mentors the staff on design and photography, Becky Guertler has helped raise money and connect the reporters with community members. Their son, Parker Guertler, a Kearns High student, also joined the newspaper staff.

“These kids are so smart and articulate. They know exactly what they’re doing," Kearns Mayor Kelly Bush said. “They are having fun with it. It’s fun to watch them.”

It’s important that the students have full control of the paper, but people in Kearns are happy to help where they can, Bush said. The mayor has seen student reporters come to council meetings and noticed people at the senior center reading copies of their work.

“They have a lot of support behind them in this community,” Bush said.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.