Extra, extra: Kenai Middle students light up daily announcements

KMS Northern Lights Class Interactive 
Eighth-graders Joseph Vicere and Andi Reilly read off the teleprompter while signs remind them to smile, speak up and not chew gum. Students film a video program of the school announcements every day.

Who says the routine of daily school announcements has to be just routine? With new technology, some extra effort and student creativity, the bulletin at Kenai Middle School is anything but boring.

Instead of an administrator or staff member reading schedules and reminders over the public-address speakers, school at Kenai Middle starts with classes watching the latest installment of “Northern Lights” — a video newscast-style program put together by students in Tyler Schlung’s eighth-grade studio class.

A pair of students sit in front of the camera and present the day’s announcements and a feature segment they write themselves in TV-newscaster style, complete with changing images and text onscreen. Classrooms at Kenai Middle are equipped with a SMART boards that play the “Northern Lights” videos every morning.

“I see how awesome it is for the kids. They learn to present information in a way that’s interesting and fun and not boring,” Schlung said of his studio class students. Meanwhile, the rest of the school gets to actually enjoy the announcements. “The students get excited about it. If a teacher forgets to play it, they’ll hear about it.”

The school got a grant for the video equipment and software to produce the show.

“It’s a chance for the kids to grow, mature and use some of those people skills,” Schlung said. “They learn about themselves and it makes education relevant for the real world because they see this as something people are doing out in the real world, and here they’re doing it now, learning those skills.”

KMS Northern Lights Class 
Students in Kenai Middle School’s studio class, from left, are Kyla Whannell, Andi Reilly, Joseph Vicere, Julee-Anna VanVelzor, Driskol Heath, teacher Tyler Schlung and Jacob Powell. Not pictured is Ryan Glenzel.
The studio class is an elective for eighth-graders and meets in the afternoon. Each class period starts with watching the previous “Northern Lights” broadcast and critiquing it, with students commenting on something the newscasters did well and something they could work on.

“They try to build and improve and learn from each others’ strengths and weaknesses,” Schlung said. “They see there’s always room for improvement, but there’s also things that you do well.” The rest of the period is spent with the students paired up researching and writing scripts for upcoming shows. There’s a different feature in each newscast — word of the day, this day in history, an explanation of the origin of a funny phrase, a famous quote, or a review of a new movie, band or book.

“The first day they signed up for the class I told them, ‘I want to see you guys take your own personality, your own ideas and incorporate them into what you’re presenting.’ They’ve done a great job of that,” Schlung said.

Incorporating humor is one of the best ways to infuse personality and liven up the scripts. In a recent “This day in history” segment, Kyla Whannell and Andi Reilly swapped back and forth listing historic dates and events. Between highlights of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible and a drought that caused Niagara Falls to run dry was a mention of 1882, when Congress outlawed polygamy. “So, what was the big deal about owning a few pigs?” Kyla asked.

In another recent show, the word of the day was “stalwart.”

“Hey, I’ve seen that movie — ‘Luke, I am your father,’” Driskol Heath said.

“Not ‘Star Wars.’ Stalwart,” Joseph Vicere corrected him.

KMS Northern Lights Class Filming 
Kenai Middle School teacher Tyler Schlung runs the computer program that produces his studio class’s “Northern Lights” newscast-style program. Joseph Vicere and Andi Reilly practice reading the day’s announcements.
The feature segments are recorded during the afternoon class. The school bulletin isn’t put together until morning, so whichever two students are scheduled for the day’s “Northern Lights” show have to be at school at 7:25 a.m. to record the announcements segment, often with just a few minutes to read through them and rehearse.

“When you look up on the teleprompter and you see there’s like 10 big announcements you have to do, that’s pretty challenging to try and get them all down in five minutes,” said Julee-Anna VanVelzor.

“I think it’s fun. The adults will give you compliments, like ‘You could do this as your career’ and stuff. The kids, I think, are more critical than the teachers are, but I just ignore them,” Kyla said. “I’m just like, ‘Whatever.’ The kids don’t realize how hard it is,” Joseph said.

Schlung does, which is why he’s as impressed as he is with the progress his student newscasters have made.

“I just like seeing the kids grow and mature and stretch themselves a little bit and see that they’re capable of doing maybe a little bit more than they thought they were,” Schlung said.