As the clock approaches 8:20 a.m. at London Towne Elementary School, sixth-grader Taylor Martinez-Rodriguez, the anchor of the “Morning News”, sits in front of a green screen practicing her scripts. She does one last check of her posture and the teleprompter begins to roll. It’s showtime. Taylor leads the Pledge of Allegiance on a stream that is broadcast into every classroom. After a few announcements, it’s time for the first video. Taylor emphatically declares “Roll the tape!” and the video starts perfectly on cue.
That ‘tape’ is actually a video that is ‘rolled’ by fellow sixth-grader Samantha Interiano Davila on a computer. Tapes haven’t been used in the news industry for years, as technology has advanced and new equipment has become available; and that’s exactly what happened this year in the Centreville school. The students are using a brand new system that allows them to use Zoom to stream the newscast into classrooms. Before this year, physical cables were strewn into TVs or projectors so students could tune in. The upgraded software also allows the student production team to get more creative and find new ways to showcase the daily news.
“I like doing my job because I like working with technology,” sixth-grader Lieimy Hernandez-Lopez said. “I get to experience new buttons.”
Librarian Megan Carnahan has been a part of the operation since she started 18 years ago. She says the news has transformed over the years, and the students are always quick to adapt to the new technology. That’s especially true this year, as the pandemic forced students to become even more technologically savvy.
“I think it’s great to see them get excited about something!” Carnahan said. “Last week Lieimy discovered something in the software that we hadn’t seen. It was a way to get the screen larger for the audience to see. So when she discovered that she was super excited and called us all over to look. I get excited when they are excited about their job.”
The daily show runs about five to seven minutes, and is made up of content generated from students, teachers and staff from around the school. The students involved in production all have different roles that work together to create the newscast. Teamwork is an important part of making it all happen.
“My favorite part is that there are pieces to every job and the computers are the most important,” said Samantha Interiano Davila. “The challenge is keeping the timing right, for example if the anchor says something when she’s supposed to and I’m on the wrong slide, it can mess everything up.”
“I kind of want to work one day in the news one day because it’s fun,” said Mohamed-Saad Moataz, who runs the teleprompter.
“My favorite part is doing the sound,” said Tristan Thompson. “If there was no sound, you wouldn’t be able to hear! The audio would be too high or too low.”
The high-tech London Towne production has become a leading example within FCPS, with other schools reaching out for help improving their own morning news. The three London Towne staff sponsors have held virtual meetings with other school news sponsors and they have also hosted a few visitors to observe the show in action.
Taylor Martinez-Rodriguez wants to be a reporter or anchor when she’s older. She says working with the student news has helped her build social skills.
“When I first started, I got more nervous thinking about it ahead of time… but when I actually got to do it I wasn’t as nervous,” Taylor added.
Carnahan echoed that, saying she’s seen shy students come out of their shell and find new confidence through their work at the “Morning News.” She says she hopes some of these students take what they learn here to possibly pursue a career in journalism one day. But she also says the newscast is a great way for students to take on a leadership role at school, make new friends, and build community.
“Now that it’s easy for everyone to access it through Zoom in the morning, the entire school watches it daily, and everyone can find out what we’re doing. Everyone is on the same page. So I think it creates a great sense of community.”