A recent cover of the newspaper.

Cronkite News Service

PHOENIX — Could there be a real-life Spider-Man? Fourth-grader and journalist Wyatt Arrington went to the Arizona Science Center to find out.

“Have you ever wondered how Spider-Man could swing from building to building on a single web? What would it be like if a man could really make spider webs?” he wrote.

As a “young reporter” for Bear Essential News for Kids, Wyatt, a student at Towne Meadows Elementary School in Gilbert, shared how spider webs are made, as well as how Arizona State University researchers are developing ways to mass-produce spider silk.

The Tucson-based educational newspaper, aimed at elementary and junior high school students and their families, has been published monthly for 35 years.

Eighty percent of its distribution goes directly to about 550 schools in the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas and in Pinal County.

Children write the paper’s articles, along with adults who cover issues in terms kids can understand. The publication produces editions for Tucson and Phoenix, with city-specific advertising and events calendars.

Co-publisher Nancy Holmes said the newspaper succeeds because it offers something for everyone who reads it.

“It’s from the littlest kids who just want to find the hidden objects on the front cover right on up through the grandparents who will pick it up at the ice cream store, and everybody in between,” she said.

Its longevity is partly due to its remaining true to its mission and continuing to provide a printed product to schools, Holmes said.

“The mission of the paper is really to educate, entertain and enrich Arizona kids and their families with a free educational resource, a free newspaper,” she said. “We haven’t wavered on that.”

Bear Essential News is offered as a free educational resource to schools and families. It is supported by advertising revenue, sponsorships and grants.

When Stephen Gin became editor, he figured out the paper could garner revenue by soliciting corporate sponsorships of certain editorial sections. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office sponsors an anti-bullying page.

The newspaper also features the Young Reporter Program, which enables students in third through eighth grades to submit articles.

The goals are improving children’s writing skills, bolstering their self-esteem, and strengthening communication skills.

“The whole idea behind it was to give kids a platform to express themselves, to give them a voice,” Gin said.

Jennifer Dow, a fourth-grade teacher at Towne Meadows, uses the paper in her classroom. She urges her students to join the Young Reporter Program as a way to write about topics that matter to them.

“Often children are not heard,” she said. “I felt it was very important that they know that what they have to say matters.”

Tim McGuire, an expert at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said Bear Essential News is “combining a business with doing good — training young journalists, getting kids involved, helping literacy.”

Gin said the publication has aligned its content with the Common Core State Standards in education, which require classes to include informational and nonfiction materials.

The paper’s website lists which grade-level standards are met by the current main feature and other key pieces of content.