Future broadcasters take root at SCMS

Students involved in every aspect of weekly newscast, from anchoring to technical work
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The next generation of broadcast journalists is getting a taste of all they need to learn, thanks to the Smart Lab that opened at Shawano Community Middle School in September.

Five students are learning all the skills behind the camera and in front of it as they regularly present weekly news announcements to their fellow students and staff. They’ve had the opportunity to do interviews, write scripts, handle the equipment, serve as anchors and work the cameras.

The students also had the opportunity in March to put together a video about the Shawano School District’s capital referendum, interviewing administrators from other schools and putting it out for the community as a resource about learning what would be done if the district was allowed to borrow $54.5 million.

Above all, though, the video production program is laying the groundwork for new classes and is stirring the potential for a video production program and lab at Shawano Community High School in the future.

Robert O’Reilly, an eighth grade student, has enjoyed being able to anchor 12 episodes of Hawk News Nest, with the name drawing inspiration from the district’s hawk mascot. O’Reilly likes doing that the most out of any newsroom task.

“My first couple of times, I was really nervous,” O’Reilly said. “I just wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, how things were going to go, what we were really doing in the beginning. I didn’t want to be made fun of or anything like that.”

Although his nerves eventually subsided, O’Reilly admitted they made an encore when the students were tasked with developing the referendum video, noting that he was talking with other administrators from outside the middle school.

“It feels a lot easier and more smoother,” O’Reilly said. “The first couple of times, I would stutter a lot. Now, it’s more clear, and I know how to get it done and over with.”

Bennett Aumann, another eighth grade student in the program, said he really likes to do a mix of things and has gained a lot of experience in the last eight months.

“I do mostly anchoring or running the teleprompter, like a producer,” Aumann said. “When I started, it was less nervous and more being overwhelmed. There was a lot of new stuff and things that I didn’t really understand.”

Aumann noted the elementary schools have done news programs, but that was mainly done with an iPad and a microphone. Seeing the cameras and equipment, which includes a green screen that in post-production can show a facsimile of a newsroom and anchor desk, was something new for him.

“I got used to it, and now it’s like an ordinary class,” Aumann said. “I definitely think this was a great thing for me to start out with, and I’m hoping to do more at the high school and looking at it as a career.”

The video production program was just an enrichment activity for the current school year but will be expanded to two classes beginning in September, according to teacher Anne Beck. There are also discussions circulating about developing a program for the high school to continue the training of future news gatherers, although nothing is set in stone.

Beck and fellow teacher Mindy Bougie have given up many a lunch hour to work with the students on learning the ins and outs of broadcasting, but Beck noted that the students are now teaching each other how to do things.

“We did not know what we were walking into,” Beck said.

“There was a learning curve, but I also feel like I’ve seen a lot of growth in the students,” Bougie said.

Now, the students are in a routine, knowing when they come in what needs to be set up, what needs to be done on a particular day, and much more.

“Their communication skills and their writing skills have improved,” Bougie said.

Also helping with the program is Lawrence Gillick, a district technician Beck and Bougie relied on heavily at the beginning of the school year as things were just getting going.

The Smart Lab was made possible after William Traber, SCMS principal, lobbied for it, and although he knew it would be a valued addition to the school’s learning community, even he was floored when he saw how well the video production program has taken off.

“They’re really taken ownership of it,” Traber said. “The skills they’ve learned this year, I don’t think we could have taught them in any other area.”

Traber noted a news broadcaster came in early in the year and helped to give the students a sense of what all has to be done to report the news.

“You’re using your senses when you’re making those videos,” Traber said. “They’re seeing that final product, and it’s not a final product done quickly. There was a start and a finish, a complete idea going through the video production process. Now, it’s kind of self-sufficient. The students have their roles. For instance, I could give them a script about what I want them to do in the teleprompter, and they do all the editing and background.”

Already, the video production program has folks asking the students to film various things beyond the weekly newscast, according to Bougie and Beck.

“They’ve been asking, but we just don’t have enough time in our day,” Beck said. “This is currently my lunch hour.”