Petaluma student newscast expanding, thanks to grant (w/video)

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A tense moment occurred before KTV went live at Kenilworth Junior High on Friday morning — a technical problem that jeopardized students’ ability to broadcast their daily news show by the 8:16 a.m. deadline.

“Whoa! We just lost the camera!” exclaimed eighth-grader Chase Moser, intently watching information on the broadcast-quality computer in front of him.

Without a word, classmate Ben Van Der Meer darted into the adjacent studio and adjusted some wires on the camera that faced the desk and green screen where two student anchors were getting situated.

“OK, it’s back; we’re good,” Moser breathed.

“Nothing like some morning anxiety to wake you up,” Van Der Meer observed.

That level of ownership and responsibility by students is part of what earned the Petaluma school a national $20,000 grant to expand its popular morning news broadcast into a full-fledged class, said English teacher Laura Bradley, who along with history teacher Isaac Raya runs the show.

They learned Thursday that Kenilworth was one of 14 schools across the country to be awarded a grant from the National Writing Project to develop programs that encourage student innovation and learning. The grant is sponsored through a partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, best known for its prestigious “genius grants,” and musician John Legend’s Show Me campaign.

Bradley and Raya say the new funds will support the purchase of professional video-editing equipment, including Final Cut Pro software, cameras and iMac desktop computers, that students will use next year. That’s when the school will turn what has been a morning club that records the 5-minute show in a small studio off the school library into an elective class that has its own room and adjacent studio.

Having a full-length class will allow students to play an even greater role in producing the news show, including creating graphics and writing the scripts, currently composed by Bradley.

“Kids should be doing all that,” Bradley said.

She said the grant will help the school provide students with the tools they need for valuable career training in digital media.

“We have an excellent woodworking program here, and they have a phenomenal, dedicated shop with all the tools someone in woodcraft would need,” she said. She compared that to the digital media classes she and Raya teach. “It’s great (students) have laptops, but they need the professional tools to get them excited about real work. Having the right equipment, I’m really excited about what that will do for our kids.”

Principal Emily Dunnagan said she supports the teachers’ desire to expand the program in part because it will allow more students to be involved. Right now, the small size of the studio limits how many can participate. About six kids take turns being anchors. Another six rotate through the technical side of the show.

Also, Dunnagan said, the use of technology fits in well with new Common Core standards.

“I encourage teachers to experiment with infusing technology into the curriculum, letting them know that if we fail, we just try again,” she said.

Kenilworth’s morning news show started years ago, but has grown and become higher-tech in recent years under Bradley and Raya’s guidance.

“It started in the library at our old school with one camera,” Bradley said. A new campus was built several years ago and included a small studio by the library.

“At first, it wasn’t slick-looking,” Bradley said of the show, adding that it was hard to recruit anchors because they would get teased by other students. “Our goal was to make it really cool.”

The show now includes music selected by Raya — on Friday, it was Weezer — graphics created by students and embedded videos of students promoting various campus activities. Sometimes, guest anchors like school principals, the police chief, mayoral candidates or state Assemblyman Marc Levine stop in. After reading Friday’s newscast off a teleprompter on an iPad, anchors Aaron Aiwohi-Junnila and Zarbia Perez said their time in front of the camera has given them a bit of celebrity status at the school.

“Kids come up and say, ‘You’re Zarbia, right?’ It’s really fun,” Perez observed.

Moser said he’s learned a lot through his participation in KTV. His favorite part? When the show is over and everything has gone right.

“That takes off a lot of tension and stress,” he said.

Staff Writer Jamie Hansen blogs about education at You can reach her at 521-5205 or On Twitter @jamiehansen.

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