SALISBURY — When they were tasked with presenting local school news in their own way, Savannah Deal and Justin Kimber decided to have some fun.
Deal and Kimber, co-anchors of the WRSS student news team, introduced their latest stories from the ferris wheel at the Rowan County Fair.
WRSS was developed by the Rowan-Salisbury School System over the summer. It involves six students — one from each of the system's traditional public high schools — and airs on local access channel Access16.
“We're taking the news and trying to present it in the most creative way we can think of,” Deal said.
The anchors greet viewers at the start and end of the show, and they introduce each of the stories that the field reporters cover.
Those reporters are Jake Kennedy from West Rowan High School, Victor Pereira from East Rowan High School, J.C. Burton from Salisbury High School and Taylor Kluttz from South Rowan High School.
Deal, a senior at Jesse C. Carson High School, said TV journalism is related to her interest in drama and theater. She said the idea for a news show run by students from different schools is “fantastic.”
“I think you really don't know what's going on at other schools unless you know someone that goes there,” she said. “The more ties we can form with each other, the more informative we can be.”
Kimber, a senior at North Rowan High School, said he thinks the program is great practice for his goal of becoming a news anchor.
“I love every minute of it, because I'm seeing what I could do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Deal and Kimber both said they really enjoy meeting new people as part of the project. Kimber also likes learning how to express himself on camera.
“I think the idea is actually brilliant,” he said. “You don't see too many high schools with programs like this.”
The WRSS advisers and producers are Amie Williams, assistant principal at Carson, and Andrew Smith, a 21st Century Model Classroom Teacher at East Rowan.
Williams and Smith said the program was Grissom's idea, and they helped develop it.
“We looked at a way that the students could show some of the great things happening within our county from a student perspective,” Smith said. “There's a lot of negative publicity in education, so we wanted to show the positive things that are going on and have them highlighted in a creative way.”
He said participants were chosen based upon recommendations from their principals, and it's often a challenge to coordinate the schedules of these “best and brightest” students.
The WRSS team held its first meeting during the summer, when the students learned how to use digital SLR cameras and lapel microphones, how to conduct interviews and what makes a good story.
“We gave them a crash course in how to use the equipment, and they came back with some amazing footage,” Smith said.
The students got some help from local media professionals, including Elizabeth Cook, editor of the Salisbury Post; David Whisenant, a news reporter with WBTV; and Kent Bernhardt, a radio broadcaster with WSTP.
Smith handles most of the scheduling and pre-production. Public Information Officer Rita Foil tells him about upcoming events, and he adds them to a pool of stories that the student reporters can choose from.
Reporters then go out in pairs to shoot footage and conduct interviews, while the two anchors come up with a script and a location. Students then return their footage to Williams, who is in charge of post-production. She edits their work into the final product.
While the stories are assigned for now, Williams said the students choose how to cover them and the words that they use.
“It's from their perspective, through their lens,” she said.
Eventually, Smith said, the goal is for the students to come up with many of the stories on their own. He said they already have good suggestions.
“It's going to be an excellent experience for them and a really good advantage for applying to colleges,” he said.
The team has released one episode and is finishing up its second, which will begin airing Monday. These two “pilots” feature systemwide news, but future shows also will highlight individual schools.
“The first pilot was phenomenal, and I think it just really took people aback,” Williams said. “They were very impressed with what the kids did. ... I think even the kids were surprised with how good it was.”
In that show, the students talked to Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller about new security systems at elementary schools, interviewed Superintendent Judy Grissom about her retirement and took a look at the school system's STEM bus.
The second episode will feature a back-to-school teacher conference and Grissom's retirement reception, among other stories.
Last week, seniors Pereira and Kennedy joined State Superintendent June Atkinson, State Board of Education Chairman William Covey and other officials on a tour of Horizons Unlimited.
They interviewed Atkinson and Covey, after filming students analyzing fake blood samples and taking fingerprints during a crime scene investigations class.
Pereira said he has never thought about going into a communications field, but he enjoys it so much that he might consider it now.
“I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes,” Pereira said. “I think we have the potential to do something special with this.”
Kennedy said he's interested in working in public relations and appreciates the chance to build these skills.
Both said they like the idea of sharing what's happening in the school system from a student's point of view, especially for their own classmates.
“If they see student faces - people that they connect with - then they'll start actually wanting to pay attention,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he hopes the show will even inspire people to help out in the schools. Kluttz, a junior, agreed.
“I hope it will get more people involved in the district,” she said, “and show them what the district's doing to improve the schools here.”