Making way for the next TV anchor

At St. John's Parish Day School, third-graders work at writing, delivering broadcast news

February 16, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

Alayna Newsome beat her alarm clock by a half-hour and woke up at 6:57 a.m. energized and excited. Even though it would be seven hours until the camera would roll, the St. John's Parish Day School third-grader was pumped.

Alayna, of Woodbine, had spent the past week combing Web sites for current events and perfecting her poise as she prepared to read a news script in front of her classmates.

This year, third-graders at the private Ellicott City school have gained a greater appreciation for broadcast journalists, current events and public speaking through a required newscast presentation. Each week, two students step up to the anchor desk and deliver a five- to 10-minute newscast for their classmates.

The students are taped, participate in a question-and-answer session with classmates and receive a grade.

"I feel really happy with myself," Alayna said a few minutes after her newscast last week. "I feel like I accomplished something."

Sharon Runge, the school's director of development, films the students with a small digital camera. She then transfers the newscast to compact discs, using a computer program called iMovies.

The students get one take to deliver the goods.

"I don't edit the children," Runge said. "They've all done a good job. All should be proud of what they've done."

Runge gives each student a copy of the newscast. Some have used their copy as gifts for family members.

"It's a nice way for parents to see what is happening with their kids," Runge said.

The finished product might look relatively seamless, but the students work the entire week to be ready for their broadcasts.

On Monday, students begin to collect stories that include world news, local news, weather and, of course, school news. On Tuesday, students begin to identify the top stories of the week. Alayna devoted most of her script to the Super Bowl.

By Wednesday, students start writing scripts. They transform their information into a script by using a sample template. The students also lengthen their notes and insert proper punctuation into the scripts to ensure that they know when to pause and how to sound on the air.

Students who are scheduled to read their news scripts Friday are exempt from regular homework that week so that they can perfect their content and performance.

Karin Fitzgerald, the third-grade teacher who developed the project, said she was looking for a way to get her students excited about current events and public speaking. She talked with fellow teachers during the summer.

"I tweaked [the project] for my own use," said Fitzgerald, who used to teach kindergarten. "The kids have really loved it. ... It's a keeper."

Tom Turnbull, an 8-year-old from Baltimore, said the assignment helped him to overcome his fear of public speaking.

"I used to be shy," said Tom, who completed his newscast last week. "The more times I do it, the better I get."

Taylor O'Connell, a 9-year-old from Ellicott City, also was reticent before her newscast last month.

"I was worried that I would mess up," she said. "I just looked up at the camera, and I knew that most of these people were my friends, and they wouldn't care if I messed up. But I didn't."

Taylor's favorite part of the newscast was the reaction of her classmates.

"It felt sort of like you were a movie star," she said. "It feels like you are famous almost."

Runge loves the encouragement that students give one another.

"When they finish, all the other children start applauding," Runge said. "Some will ask for their autographs, too."

Fitzgerald said the students respond to constructive suggestions.

"They are giving great feedback and are asked great questions," Fitzgerald said. "The kids, the class has responded very well."

Brady Matta, a confident 8-year-old old from Ellicott City, said he isn't nervous about his newscast next month.

"I just want to get it over with," he said.

Brady knows what he is going to include -- sports and weather. But absolutely no football.

"Soccer, baseball, NASCAR and all the other sports," he said of his editorial decision.

Brady knows what needs to be done to deliver a stellar newscast.

"I'm going to sit up straight and speak loudly," he said with authority.

The promise of a weeklong homework exemption excited Brady the most.

"I'll have no homework," he cheered.

Fitzgerald's left eyebrow immediately shot up.

"It's a tremendous amount of work," she whispered as Brady got out of earshot. "Brady just hasn't gone yet."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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