By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Sulphur Springs District Teachers Association member Ken Newton and his students celebrate another successful broadcast.
They’re only in elementary school, but they’re TV stars at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School in Santa Clarita. Each morning — via the school’s closed-circuit TV network — youngsters can be viewed on televisions in every classroom giving live reports on weather, sports and entertainment. They are not just reporters; students also serve as producers, film crew members and script writers. Perks include attending movie premieres and mingling with celebrities. Even more important, they are having fun while also learning about journalism, technology and the world.
Falcon Television Network may be entirely run by students in grades 4-6, but it wouldn’t be must-see TV without Ken Newton, who serves as the station’s director. He is the man behind the curtain, in a literal sense, who prepares youngsters for prime time. And he loves every minute of it.
“This program is normally found at high schools and is very unique at the elementary school level,” says Newton, a sixth-grade teacher and member of the Sulphur Springs District Teachers Association. “My TV crew does an amazing job every day.”
Falcon Network, named after the school mascot, was started in 2002 with a grant from Time Warner Cable, which installed the closed-circuit TV equipment. In the beginning, student broadcasters stuck to mundane announcements such as the lunch menu. But that changed in 2007 when Newton took over and decided to liven things up with segments such as “Whaaaat To Do Over the Weekend,” “Wacky Wednesday Weather,” “Monday Masterpieces” and “Read a Good Book Lately?” along with the latest in local, national and world news.
During a recent visit to the “station,” located in the school library, the lead story was a visit from the California Educator, followed by a rapping weather report (“Wacky Wednesday Weather, changing every day, you never know what’s coming your way”), a feature on pollution (enlivened by students coughing dramatically before advocating bike riding and chanting “Go Green!”), a sports update on Southern California teams, and much more.
“I was nervous at first, but now I’m used to it,” says rapping weather girl Brittney Giles, a fifth-grader. “I like knowing everyone on the crew is there for me. I’m having fun.”
Fifth-graders Andrew Failma and Ushni Gupta enjoy making slides shown during broadcasts. They love the job because they can be creative and use technology.
“You get to show your own personality in some of the slides,” says Gupta with a grin. Students frequently trade “jobs” so they can learn all aspects of broadcasting.
Falcon TV crew members have attended movie premieres, including National Treasure, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Horton Hears a Who. Among the celebrities they have interviewed are Nicolas Cage, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. They have also interviewed local dignitaries while celebrating CTA’s Read Across America at school.
“I love to see how these students shine,” Newton whispers while watching his students broadcast live. “They are developing oral language skills. They have enthusiasm, energy and self-confidence. They are learning the technology of video and using the Smart Boards for creating background. I am proud to say that most of our FTN crew go on to their local high school news crews or end up majoring in some sort of journalism in college. I am very, very proud of these students.”