C-SPAN tightens focus on local school

Two of the network's buses cruise into Annapolis to give civics lessons

September 17, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

AC-SPAN bus pulled into Annapolis High School on Wednesday, an all-in-one rolling classroom and advertisement for the cable TV network.

A day after Election Day, about 120 students in government, journalism, speech, debate, and related classes took turns boarding the bus for a lesson on civics and government - and how the network can help children learn more about them.

C-SPAN, created as a public service, is known for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress.

One 45-foot-long C-SPAN bus is equipped with cameras, TV monitors and other production equipment and focuses on schools; the other bus goes to libraries, bookstores and other book-related venues. Both buses travel 11 months a year and have been to all 50 states, even boarding boats to go to Hawaii.

"I was asked if we would like to host the bus, and of course I said yes," said Kimberly Jakovics, the social studies department chairwoman at Annapolis High School. "It's exciting for the students. We try to get our students to be literate as far as news goes, so they know what's going on in the world."

She's hoping to use the free online component in the classroom. C-spanclassroom.org is divided into six areas: principles of government; the Constitution; the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; and political participation. Each week, video clips are added that complement those areas, said Toni Williams, a C-SPAN marketing representative.

"We liked the really short, very focused video clips," Jakovics said. "You really can't get that anywhere else."

Williams made the kids laugh as she peppered them with facts and questions and handed out T-shirts to some kids who answered her correctly.

Addressing students in Diana Peckham's journalism class, Williams asked students where they turn for different kinds of information. To make a living room look larger, they turn to HGTV, they said. To see old football games, it's ESPN Classic.

"If you want to watch government in action, which network would you watch?" she asked.

Playing snippets from C-SPAN on a television monitor, she explained that the network, which began in 1979, airs coverage of congressional meetings. Just that day, C-SPAN aired a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act and a Senate hearing on terrorist financing.

"If the House is in session for 42 hours, how much do you think you'll see on C-SPAN?" she asked. The answer, of course, was 42 hours.

She also compared C-SPAN to other networks, showing how different networks aired a press briefing by a military official. In every case except C-SPAN, the screen was busy with a crawl of information along the bottom and a split screen showing a different scene. C-SPAN showed only the person being interviewed.

Williams then asked the students what happens when someone starts to cry during a TV interview. The camera zooms in, they replied. Not on C-SPAN, she said. She also noted that C-SPAN doesn't air just the most inflammatory snippet of an interview or exchange, but the entire thing.

Peckham liked that Williams was demonstrating how all media are not the same.

"I want my students to be aware of news sources and function as unbiased, objective reporters," she said.

After the presentation, Samantha Buckley, the editor in chief of the student newspaper who plans to double major in journalism and political science in college next year, said she was impressed.

"I thought it was great that we were given an opportunity to come in and see how this all works," she said.

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