It’s fair to say, nothing looks as it did one year ago for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District. As teachers, students and families continue to adapt to Hybrid and Distance Learning, some continue to look for ways to keep students engaged beyond the classroom.
Early in to the 2020-21 school year, Oakdale Junior High teacher and leadership advisor Erin Benbow did just that.
According to seventh grader and leadership student Brody Lev, Benbow presented the class with the idea of a campus news broadcast. Excited by the idea and with the help of fellow history teacher Logan Stewart, the class began Rams News Network.
“The first focus I had was to organize the class based on interest and based on titles that I knew were part of a newsroom,” Stewart, a communications major, explained, noting he also drew on several years of college experience with a radio show.
Sharing the teacher’s enthusiasm, Brody said he was also all in, when first hearing of the idea.
“I have a lot of skills. I enjoy technology. I love to edit videos and I believe I’m a great leader. I love to lead,” the seventh grader shared.
Teacher and student said different communication forums such as e-mail, text and zoom meetings have become instrumental in brainstorming with the class about varying topics and then taking a vote on what’s most popular. Episodes are 10 to 15 minutes in length and are aired bi-monthly. Each ‘Rams News’ episode has varying segments. Script writers develop a script which is then reviewed as a group.
“With Brody I knew he had so many skills that were in tune to that, that I made him our production manager,” Stewart said. “Then we started creating new positions from that.”
Positions for the school broadcast include: Content Editor, Quality Editor, Script Writers, Broadcast Meteorologist, as well as some which are created names as they’ve gone along.
“It’s all communication. Talking about things you like and stuff like that,” Brody said of managing the process with seventh and eighth graders remotely. “We have a Group Chat. We don’t just use it for our event; we use it for conversation and helping others out.”
“He coordinates and edits and does everything that any production manager would do normally,” Stewart said of the seventh grade leader. “He’s got a niche for that, so I let him take the reins after we’ve met a couple of times each week. He does a really good job of just piecing everything together and making it a final product. He’s just awesome.”
A fact, which might seem daunting for a typical seventh grader, new to campus as well as the rigors of changing classes and an increased workload … remotely.
“Before this, I was actually nervous to go there with the lockers and all the stuff that is different,” the former Sierra View Elementary student shared. “Over time it’s just being repetitive.”
According to Brody and Stewart, episodes are created by the first 20 students to express an interest in what’s up and coming. They can be viewed through Google Classroom, which Stewart shares with teachers and encourages them to share with their classes. Episodes are posted on Fridays and are archived.
“It’s definitely at the grass roots level, but once we’re back we’re going to hit it head on. That’s the exciting part about it,” the advisor said.
“As good as it could be for a digital experience,” Stewart continued. “There’s so much I want to do with this program as we kick started and with so many limitations that will be there. But for me, completely digital, I am amazed with what these kids have done with it. The products keep getting better and better.”
It’s an opportunity for creativity and gaining valuable experience at the same time.
“For these seventh graders that have never been on campus, never met their teachers, it provided a connection that they would have never had,” Stewart concluded. “Really it’s the connection of seeing students that go to Oakdale Junior High and making that connection and even though we’re not on campus we’re still living and we’re thriving.”
“Basing off of what Mr. Stewart said, including me, I’m a seventh grader,” Brody chimed in. “We’ve never actually been on campus, it’s really difficult to socialize. We don’t really talk a lot on here. So with this, RNN we can message, text and even video chat.”
Not to mention, keep fellow students up to date on the latest happenings while they wait for the opportunity to share the school year in person.