NDP Middle School Director, Mrs. Sue Eisenhart, had an idea and…
Wait a minute! Where did it go? I’ll tell you where. The NDP 8th graders took the idea and ran with it!
But let’s start at the beginning. All of 2 months ago. Back in January of this year, Mrs. Eisenhart had the idea to create a Middle School TV news studio from which could be reported by the students – live, local, and late breaking – the morning announcements and other news. She had seen what such an experience had done for students at her former school and wanted to give the girls at NDP the same opportunity. She mentioned it to NDP middle school technology teacher, Mia Walsh and NDP Tech Director, Dave Hennel, and that’s pretty much all it took. First, they had to find studio space and thanks to the generosity of art teacher, Christian Leitch, who donated half of her art supplies closet, they did. Next Dave and Mia outfitted the cramped, little studio with the necessary equipment: 2 cameras, lights, microphones, a control board, anchor desk, computers, and monitors and taught the girls how to operate the equipment. It was all done on a shoestring. There’s no “Green Room” in this studio…unless you count the corner of the closet where Mrs. Leitch keeps the green paint. But it works. And all looks very professional, down to the WNDP logo, displayed behind the anchor desk and designed by 8th grade, graphic artist extraordinaire, Anna Zittle. A staff and crew were recruited through an application process, open only to 8th graders. In no time at all a team of producers, floor directors, roving reporters, graphic artists, technical directors, news anchors, cameramen…er, cameragirls, and sound technicians was in place. The team was given a minimum of training and some logistical parameters and within days, WNDP was up and running. And I do mean running. The girls took over the entire endeavor with fervor.
“It turned out better than I ever expected!” Mrs. Eisnehart explained with glee. “I didn’t anticipate the excitement, interest, or energy it created among the girls! It’s truly remarkable!”
WNDP has only been in operation since the end of January, but it runs like a well-oiled machine, managed flawlessly and entirely by the 8th grade team. Which is not to say there is not high-pitched energy before and after the broadcast. For anyone who’s seen the show, “Newsroom” you have an idea of what a studio is like up to the moment you go live.
“It’s total chaos!” AV technician, Kate Walsh explained. “There’s rehearsal, direction rundown, last minute news bulletins, sudden adjustments in line up. Sometimes even technical difficulties. But the minute we go live, on air…everyone is calm and everything is seamless.” That is in no small way due to the quiet confidence of director and technical troubleshooter, Elizabeth Erisman and the no nonsense approach of producer, Quinn Murphy.
“One of the amazing things about the experience,” explained Mrs. Eisenhart, “is that it brought out strengths in the girls they didn’t know they had. It is a perfect example of 21st century learning, using all the components of that concept: Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking.”
On the day Bluenote visited WNDP the broadcast went exactly as the girls had predicted it would. Lots of high energy preparation, some last minute technical trouble shooting and changes in line-up, and then:
“Three, two, one…live from WNDP, it’s the Morning Announcements with today’s anchors, Gabrielle Chambers and Mary Kate Fitzpatrick…”
Indeed, the whole show went off without a hitch. Well, actually, apparently there was one technical hiccup, but the girls handled it so quietly and with such aplomb, that I didn’t even notice. Also, the anchors were earnest yet upbeat and the reporters reported without so much as an “um” or “uh”. The broadcast that day included morning prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and announcements about Synchronized Swimming, “NDP Overdrive”, some contest winners, placement tests, Catholic Sisters Week, and the Baltimore Spelling Bee, among others. There was also an insightful editorial analysis of a prayer reading and a spirited salute to Pi Day (March 14) complete with drum roll and cheer.
“We realized morning announcements the way we used to do them were not very exciting,” explained crew member and graphic designer, Katie Zgorski. “When they were just read over the P.A. system, they were kinda boring,” Katie confided. “Now, everyone listens!”
And watches. The announcements are broadcast live in every middle school classroom via computer and smart board, technology that is beyond the scope of my understanding. I just take their word for it.
“It’s true,” Mrs. Eisenhart confirmed. “You go in any classroom during announcements now, and they are riveted! It’s made a real difference.”
The Roving Reporters (Lilly Yerkes and Megan Tomasic) sniff out, research and write their own stories and even provide props when appropriate.
“We find props add a bit of production value,” the girls explained. Other team members include: Middle School counselor, Mary Beth Shepherd; teacher, Melinda Berger; anchors Mary Kate Guillot and Hannah Stack; and birthday reporters Elizabeth Seward and Caroline Somerville.
Besides bringing out personal strengths in each girl, the broadcast experience also teaches them such important skills as keeping perfect eye contact, public speaking, poise, grace under pressure, research, the importance of deadlines, leadership, teamwork, and responsibility…to name a few.
“Not to mention trusting your technician,” added AV tech, Kate Walsh. Demurely but adamantly. Her fellow techs, Mary Price Suter and Tori Erisman nodded in solidarity.
Thinking ahead to their succession, later this year, the 8th grade team will train the next WNDP crew (today’s 7th graders) for school year 2014-2015 broadcasts. They are also considering some guest anchors for this season.
“Mr. Pomplon has expressed interest. He said he can do ‘great banter’ so…we’re considering him,” AV tech, Tori Erisman revealed. No promises, Mr. P. They have also invited WJZ reporter, Jessica Kartalija to be a guest on the show and look forward to learning a few tips from her. After she sees how professional WNDP is, she may walk away having learned a few things herself.
“I am so proud of the girls,” Mrs. Eisenhart stated. “They really took the ball and ran with it. And I am so proud of NDP. We really embrace new and exciting and forward thinking opportunities for the girls. Through this one experience alone, the girls have learned the practical application for so many things they are taught: digital technology, speech, library research, social studies… It’s raised their awareness of so many things and given them such confidence,” she explained. “I couldn’t be happier with the results.”
The team even has a signature sign off which they recite at the end of every broadcast:
“That’s all for this morning. Until tomorrow…blue be loyal, white be true.”
And we’re out. Give these girls a Peabody Award. And watch your back, Diane Sawyer. They’re gaining on you.