Making the news elementary

Havre de Grace fifth-graders use broadcast skills to help gain confidence

October 15, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Randy Myers held cue cards and stood about 10 feet from the news anchors Adrian Jones and Emily Tillman.

As the blank top card fluttered to the ground, signifying the start of the telecast, Adrian said, "Hello, Havre de Grace. It's going to be an incredible day."

After saying "incredible," Adrian paused, and Dominick Bolen ran a mallet across a set of bells. "I'm Adrian Jones."

"And I'm Emily Tillman."

"We're coming to you from the school by the Chesapeake Bay," the anchors said in unison.

The Havre de Grace Elementary School fifth-graders were rehearsing the opening for the third installment of a live news show they began airing to the whole school last month.

The program, called Channel 4 Kids Korner News, is a weekly, five- to eight-minute broadcast on Friday mornings that includes national, sports and school news. The activity was started for pupils in the school's gifted and talented program, said Terrie Fraer, who teaches the program.

"They have academic confidence, but little or no social confidence," Fraer said of the pupils participating in the news project. "Doing the news show gives them a chance to feel good about themselves."

The pupils spend about three hours a week, including an hour outside of class, working on the show.

The idea to start the show surfaced a couple of years ago, but it wasn't until Fraer received a technology grant last year that she was able to purchase the equipment, which was installed during the summer.

When the fifth-graders in Fraer's gifted and talented classes returned to school this year, they began planning the show.

They created eight jobs, including two camera operators, two news anchors, a cue card holder, a screen monitor, a prop manager and a sound effects technician. The pupils rotate the positions weekly.

"I want them to have a chance to learn to do all the jobs on and off the camera," Fraer said.

The students begin planning their show a week in advance. The content includes school announcements, the lunch menu, birthdays, a guest interview, and a book review.

To compile their stories, the pupils browse Web sites such as Yahooligans and Scholastic. They said that they have discovered that finding news is simple, but finding news that's appropriate for all ages is more difficult.

For example, the pupils found plenty of information about the shootings at the Amish school in Pennsylvania last week, Emily said.

"But we decided that we couldn't use that because it would be too scary for the young children," she said.

The pupils also discovered the importance of reporting news promptly.

"I wanted to do a story about the E. coli spinach issue," Adrian said. "I wrote my story, and my teacher said it was old news. So I had to switch to a story about a woman who needed a bionic arm."

The pupils have been doing a good job of tailoring the telecasts to their audience, Fraer said.

"They really get into the stories and they tell them in a way that the kids in all the classrooms can understand them," she said. "They rarely choose what I would choose, but they write about what appeals to them."

The pupils also are working with sound effects for their telecasts. Music teacher Jessica Stephens is helping the children create a theme song for the show and introductions to the lunch menu and the weather.

The pupils started with sounds for the weather, Stephens said.

"I asked the children how they feel when the weather is sunny," she said. "They said happy. So I told them we don't want drums in the sound because it's gloomy. Instead we used the bells and came up with a short, upbeat sound."

Before the cameras start rolling, second-grade teacher Ann Muir works with the news anchors on how to present the news.

"I teach them how to use their expressions to jazz up their performance," said Muir, whose father was a cameraman for a local news channel. "When they see themselves doing the program on television, it helps boost their self-confidence. My second-graders are dying to get to fifth grade so they can do the news show."

Some of the children spoke about their experiences performing different jobs. Randy Myers said holding the cue cards is the toughest task.

"It may look easy to hold the cards, but it's challenging," he said. "There were little ones and big ones, and they kept falling out. If they were glued to my fingers then it would be easy, but they aren't."

Madyson Wettig said manning the cameras is the most challenging.

"It's hard to know if you have the camera just right," she said. "But once you do, it's fun. I like using the zoom lens."

Maverick Walter works on photo editing and researches information for the broadcast.

"I got to look at football scores and look at sports stories I didn't know about," he said.

Dominick Bolen said broadcasting the show live gives the group a chance to experience what professional news broadcasters have to deal with.

"It's kind of scary being on a television show that's being shown to the entire school," he said. "You worry that you will mess up. The television news people are in front of more people than we have in school, but they probably get nervous too."

On the other hand, James Bolen said he is ready to go on camera any time.

"I like being the center of attention," James said. "It's a lot of fun. I may have been nervous at first, but once you do it right, you get it into it."

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