Phennessy Burts sat behind a desk in the media center at Idlewild Elementary School Thursday morning.
A billboard with the words “The Eagle's Nest News” next to a picture of an eagle rested behind him. A mobile television stand carrying a monitor was a few feet to his left. The Idlewild fifth-grader, 10, stared ahead into the lens of a video camera.
“Good morning, students,” he said, about 9:15.
With that came the start of another school day at Idlewild – and another edition of the Eagle's Nest News (ENN) TV program.
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Idlewild is one of many public schools in Charlotte to air daily closed-circuit news shows for students in the morning. Students film, anchor and prepare for the 10- or 15-minute-long programs, which faculty members produce. Students also take part in brief segments such as a weather report and sometimes produce their own news reports.
The point, faculty say, is to teach kids responsibility, improve their communication skills and allow them to dabble in TV production. In addition, says Gloria Jones, who supervises the Idlewild program: “Every classroom is tuned in. That's how we communicate in the morning.”
Schools, including Idlewild, Winterfield and Myers Park Traditional elementaries, and Randolph and Piedmont Open Middle produce such news programs. They follow similar formats. Kids in the school's eldest grade (fifth or eighth) apply for positions, then rotate in if they are selected. They often must sign pledges to be on time, behave and get good grades, and have to make their case on their applications. Questions on the Idlewild application, for example, include “Why do you feel you would be successful in these positions?” and “List some positive characteristics about yourself.”
Most shows have a camera operator, anchors and director. Some also have a music specialist, somebody in charge of holding cue cards and a reporter. Typical reports include weather, the lunch menu and school announcements. Students have also produced original reports. Randolph students have reported on school sports and Idlewild students produced a documentary about their school last year, for example.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have been running these programs for years. Idlewild has been producing ENN for at least a decade, Jones says.
Thursday's program was typical. Morgan Murchison, 10, played an introductory song (the chorus: “I am somebody”) and after Phennessy welcomed viewers, he stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Jones reported about contributions for a fundraiser and an Idlewild staffer announced details on an upcoming PTA meeting.
Ornela Vasquez, a social worker who served as Phennessy's co-host, read guidelines for a special event at the school later Thursday, and then read her rule for the day (on the polite ways to sneeze, burp and cough). Ten-year-old Sallie Le, dressed in an apron, read the lunch menu. Then Phennessy prepared to close the 10-minute program.
Phennessy enjoys anchoring the show, he said. He likes using new words he has learned, such as “spectacular,” and says he is learning to be more responsible. Within minutes he and his cohorts would clean up the media center and race off to class. But first he had one last duty as news anchor. He looked into the camera and said:
“Have a great learning day.”