Student-Produced Morning News

Frankly, it's both fun and rewarding to watch them work, these students who run the daily morning announcement TV program here at Billerica High.

The earliest ones arrive at 5:45 AM, an hour and a half before we go on the air. Wyatt and Pat put our one good camcorder on the tripod, slide the microphones into the desk stands, and then check everything. We have a motto here: "In God We Trust. Everything Else, We Check." Then they sit down at the keyboard and type in the names of students who have a birthday today. Wishing every Billerica High student happy birthday was our principal's idea, and each day students celebrating a birthday see their names on the screen and get recognized. It's a chore to type in a new list each day, but it's one of the little touches that keeps the BMHS family together, so it's worth it.

Dave, our weatherman, arrives at about 6:00 AM. Within minutes he's connected a VCR to a computer in the darkened library and is videotaping radar weather maps from some computer service. By 6:15, he's standing infront of the big U.S. map he bought himself, drawing red warm fronts and blue cold fronts with washable markers. Later he takes a turn at the keyboard andtypes in his forecast for the next three days.

Don wanders in, carrying a the videotape he shot of yesterday's golf match. He goes off to edit the two-hour tape into a few 15 second highlights.

As it gets closer to 7:00 AM, more and more students arrive in the back corner of the school library -- our "studio." Sports team captains drop off the results of their games; teachers pass in important announcements of club meetings, ring sales, and dues collections.

The students have learned the routine, and they go about the business of putting together a live newscast with little or no help from us adults. Pat and Melissa get the announcements from the Principal's office. Our on-camera talent sit behind the anchor desk and pre-read (and sometimes edit) the announcements. They practice saying the names that look hard to pronounce.

Meanwhile, Nadia and Joy are showing a freshman how to run the camera. Rob is explaining the switcher, and Jay gets the tape ready to start the program. Wyatt sits at the audio mixer.

At 7:15 the bell rings and Jay starts the tape. It's John Cougar singing "I was born in a small town." The video scenes of small town Billerica flash by, matching the drum beats. Rob flicks the switch to activate the camera, and Melissa looks right into the lens and greets 1500 BMHS students with a smile and "Good morning, Billerica High."

She goes through the announcements. Principal Dr. Sharkey arrives and slides (off-camera) into the third seat at the desk. He talks to the student body and then turns to Dave and in his best chatty manner asks, "So, Dave -- What's the weather look like?" Dave goes through the weather, showing us the storm front moving across the country that he taped from the computer less than a hour before. His forecast appears on TV screens in every homeroom.

Don reports the sports scores and shows 30 seconds of golf highlights. When he's done, the camera goes back to Melissa who does a last-minute notice, and then says, "Have a good day." The camera switchesoff.

It took an hour and a half to prepare for the 15 minute broadcast. It was good, but not perfect. The cameraman jiggled the camera once when he moved, and the graphics person put the word "Principle" under the shot of Dr.Sharkey on the screen. We review the mistakes, but all in all, it was another good show.

After they leave to go to class, I realize that what these students are learning is much more than just video production. They are learning responsibility, how to take pride in their efforts, and how to work together. Independently. Confidently. Sharing their skills and expertise freely. Concerned less about credit than about doing a good job.

They (and students like them) have been doing this at Billerica High (and very possibly other schools, too) 180 times a year (900 live shows so far) for the past 5 years now. It just seems like now is a good time to let you all know how good they are -- and how proud we are of them.


Reprinted with permission by the author.

Author Bio: 

Bill Walsh is an English teacher at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA. His column appears in the Billerica Minuteman newspaper weekly.