Sakai sixth graders shine in daily broadcast

Sakai teacher Terri Atkinson watches as weather reporter Leah Potter works the green screen during the weather segment. The students produce a live daily news, weather and sports broadcast for the school.  - Brad Camp
Sakai teacher Terri Atkinson watches as weather reporter Leah Potter works the green screen during the weather segment. The students produce a live daily news, weather and sports broadcast for the school.
— image credit: Brad Camp

Minutes before the live broadcast began, Sakai teacher Terri Atkinson rushed to the corner of the classroom to prep her anchors.

“After we do the weather, you’re going to have to stall,” she said. “You have to remember to support each other.”

The anchors, sixth graders Cassie Thomas and Jade Greer, needed to improvise for 10 seconds while the crew queued a feature story on the school’s salmon condos.

The student broadcast, now in its 11th year, is aired live Monday through Friday and is viewed by the entire school.

Students are involved in every aspect of production, from writing scripts to running the green screen.

Once the broadcast began, Thomas and Greer breezed through the rundown: the pledge of allegiance, daily schedule and lunch information.

As Leah Potter finished the national weather report, the cameras returned to the anchors.

“I saw a raccoon in my back yard,” Greer said with a smile. “It was amazing.”

Greer and Thomas then transitioned to the salmon feature and the video began.

“I like being able to think of transitions on the spot because it makes you feel like you’re under pressure,” Greer said afterward.

Students learn valuable skills when dealing with the pressure of a live broadcast, Atkinson said.

“It’s really important that they work together as a functioning unit,” Atkinson said. “Public speaking skills, problem solving, learning how to manage on the fly when things don’t go well, to not panic and just work the problem.”

The broadcasts, which range from seven to 10 minutes, cover subjects from national news to intramural athletics.

Bob Nash, Sakai’s technology paraeducator, supervises the behind-the-scenes production.

“The kids take care of all the technical – the mixer boards, all the sound boards, and the green screens,” Atkinson said.

The technology of the broadcast has evolved in the last decade, sixth-grade teacher Ruth Schmidt said.

“We had two video camcorders, two tripods and a switcher and a mixer and it was set up in the back of the classroom.” Schmidt said. “It was much simpler at that time.”

Schmidt brought the idea of a student broadcast to Sakai in 1999.

“I was responsible for that (broadcast) project at another school I had come from on the East Coast,” she said. “We had TVs in every room and they were wired so things could be broadcast room-to-room, but no one really knew how they were going to use that,” Schmidt said.

The Bainbridge Educational Support Team – now the Bainbridge Schools Foundation – provided a grant that funded technical equipment for the broadcast, Schmidt said.

As the students work together to produce a broadcast, they are enriching their language arts skills, she said.

“Most of the things that we did (for the broadcast) were simply the same kinds of presentations that we would be doing in the classroom,” she said. “It’s just that when you put kids in front of a video camera they can gain poise and camera presence. Public speaking skills can be really enhanced.”

In the five years Schmidt’s homeroom students have produced the broadcast, students have rotated through the different positions, whether behind-the-scenes or in front of the camera.

Atkinson has continued the tradition.

“I know that a couple of the kids who have been in the broadcast end up going into some field of journalism – either in the video end of it, the writing piece, or both,” Atkinson said. “Kids who have been strong in the anchor position often run for a school office position.”

While the broadcast is primarily produced by Atkinson’s homeroom class, students from other classes often volunteer to participate.

The daily weather segment is staffed by students from different homerooms, all of whom are trained by science teacher Doug Olson.

“I thought weather was natural since we have a weather station here,” Olson said.

The addition of the green screens gave the weather segment more flexibility since students can screen slides of weather maps during the broadcast, he said.

“We’ve had the teleprompter ever since we got the green screens – they’re 4 or 5 years old,” Olson said. “We had big giant monitors and then flat screen TVs. It was an evolving system.”

Students interested in weather can stay after school to learn about pressure systems, warm fronts, cold fronts, wind patterns and the jet stream, Olson said.

Potter became interested in anchoring the weather segment in the fall.

“When we get to school we just find out what the weather is, and go on the computer and watch the satellite image and write down what we see,” Potter said. “We basically read it over, and we don’t have any time (to rehearse).”

While her first time in front of the camera was a bit nerve-wracking, Potter quickly overcame any apprehension.

“The second time I just focused on (the classroom) audience and didn’t focus on the fact the whole entire school was watching,” she said.

Olson pairs his weather anchors at the beginning of the year, and each pair reads the weather for a week. After many rotations doing weather, the students make the segment their own, Olson said.

“Eventually, in the second half of the year, I hope I can remove myself from the process completely,” he said. “Last year I did that.”

Most of Olson’s students have little anxiety about anchoring a broadcast.

“It’s a changing world,” Olson said. “It’s a part of this mass communication. Kids are wired a little bit differently. Communication is just a part of their lives.”

While the technology has changed, the appeal of the student broadcast has remained the same.

“Despite the simplicity of using a camcorder, when you put kids in front of a camcorder, they still have that sense of awe,” Schmidt said. “They love to see themselves on camera, and it’s fun.”

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