LIGHTS, CAMERA, KIDS!: Pittsfield students get first-hand look at broadcast journalism

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Photo Gallery | Reid Middle School students at PCTV

Video | Reid Middle School students create news talk shows at PCTV

This article has been amended from its original version to reflect an update in student participation rates.

PITTSFIELD >> What's on the minds of middle schoolers today?

At first glance, chatting with each other, eating snacks and sneaking peeks at their iPhones seemed of paramount importance on Wednesday in the Green Room at Pittsfield Community Television, where a group of students were gathered.

But there's more than meets the eye.

When prompted, groups of three walked down the hall into the PCTV studio and found their place at a table.

And as the cameras began to record, their tones changed and the teens began talking about issues that matter to them: the decline of course materials, school dress codes, violence and racism across the nation as well as in schools and the Berkshire community.

Eighth-grader Quentin Gittens said he liked the assignment. "It's good because we get to express our opinions about something we care about," he said.

He, along with classmates Elton Wilkins and Quincy Davis created a show called "Black Student News," which discussed on a national level the deaths of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City's Eric Garner, 43, also a black male. The students provided a brief analysis of these events and subsequent protests, then talked about solutions for improving race relations locally.

Another group of eighth-graders, Haylee Gleason, Jasmine Bishop and Shannon Dean, hashed out whether schools should do away with outdated print textbooks and invest in digital textbooks, which can be uploaded to e-readers and tablets.

"The pages fall out and they're often covered in graffiti," Dean said of the print version dilemma.

"E-texts can benefit students because they can always be updated and they're better for the environment," Bishop suggested.

The videos, filmed on Tuesday and Wednesday, will be edited into an original series of editorial news talk shows set to air sometime this spring. The productions marked the culmination of a new semester-long course in broadcast journalism and video production, taught by writing and media specialist Yvette "Jamuna" Sirker.

A total of 150 students in grades 6 through 8 participated in the new broadcast journalism curriculum at Reid. About 35 eighth graders met deadline and syllabus requirements to partipate in this week's studio talk show recordings at PCTV. All students in the program were given the opportunity to hone their literacy, research and reporting skills by writing scripts and news-style reports. The talk shows also gave students the opportunity to debate and share their opinions on their topic of interest.

"We wanted them to get into the habit of expressing their opinions and articulating their thoughts, so we're using an editorialized approach," Sirker said.

Back in the fall, students spent time researching and writing first about world news topics, then school-related issues, before forming small groups to produce a news segment on a topic of their own choosing.

Guided by state standards, it introduced students to lead writing and deadlines, public speaking skills and how to conduct original research from articles, books, interviews and other verified sources — "No Wikipedia," Sirker said.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6223.


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