Current events, that was the original idea Chisholm Middle School Social Studies teacher Carson Matile came up with for his Pride enrichment class (an elective class for the CMS students) last school year, but it quickly evolved as Matile's students made their voices heard.
"We got about a quarter of the way through the school year and the kids started to find out that they were bored with it and they wanted to do something different," Matile said.
Opening it up for suggestions, he found the students were interested in trying to put together a weekly newscast — and so Pride Time News was born. The elective class at CMS, in its second year, meets for 50 minutes daily and the nearly 30 students involved work together in various teams to put out a broadcast at the end of each week.
"It really started as a student grassroots effort. I didn't have much to do with it other than making sure that they met deadlines and got things done and tried to put things in their hands if they needed resources," Matile said.
While students were randomly assigned to Matile's class last year, this year they were given the option to choose their elective. The program, in turn, has continued to grow with increasing numbers.
Fellow CMS Social Studies teacher Daniel Buller joined in the effort helping with the broadcast elective this school year, bringing with him a strong background in the digital realm (earning his master's degree in structural design and technology) and working to get more cameras, a tripod and additional grant funding for the class.
Aligning with Buller's interests, it was an easy sell, but both he and Matile are quick to recognize the benefits the class offers to the students, as are the students themselves.
"They've gotta be able to come up with an idea, flesh out that idea, get that idea shot, create that idea and then give us a finished product all in a week," Buller said. "That's a pretty good deadline for a 12, 13, 14-year-old."
"It makes us have to work on our responsibilities, getting our assignments turned in on time, because if they're not then you have to put something else in in its place," said student Jamie Prine.
Each Friday, students are given their assignments for the following week, with three days to then develop a script, film the piece and edit it before being integrated into the final package, a (usually) 10-minute broadcast aired during advisory class time at CMS on Friday mornings.
Pieces included in the final broadcasts cover a broad range of topics, from weather to sports to upcoming events, and even include feature packages — like one students recently did addressing the issue of gun violence in schools. Given what transpired in Florida last week, that is another reason Matile is glad to see the students take so much ownership in their work through this class.
"These kids have choice, and through that choice they have the opportunity to have their voices heard," Matile said. "We're finally starting to see our student population, not just here at Chisholm, but nationally there's starting to be more of a dialogue that students are recognizing, 'well, wait a minute, we have a voice in this, too. Maybe it's time for our voice to be heard?' On a smaller scale, PTN provides that for our students."
Oftentimes, Matile noted the process of putting together the weekly broadcast of Pride Time News can look like "organized chaos." That may be even more true this week, with a holiday and snow day shortening the production schedule.
Students bounce between tasks — from hosting to producing individual segments to generating graphics for the final product — in any given class period, but the ownership and experience is never lost on them.
"It's actually like real journalism. You have to research things and put it into your own words," said student Camila Vaquera.
"You get to learn about all the news that's going on. You get to really get down and deep. Instead of hearing everybody else's stories, you get to read it for yourself and understand it," said student Michael Graf, who is working on a story about student walk outs (in the wake of the Florida school shooting). "Journalism seems like a really interesting thing to do and hopefully this will help my skills."
Moving forward, the students and teachers are hopeful they will get the opportunity to keep developing those tools. As far as the class has come in two years, both Buller and Matile want to see it continue to evolve in the future.
"This is kind of a unique thing for Newton, as even the high school doesn't have one of these anymore, and I feel this is something you don't see a lot in middle schools. You don't see a lot of broadcasting, so it's kind of unique and kind of a different thing that kids can get into," Buller said.
"If you would've asked me a year and a half ago if we would have something like this, I probably would've laughed and thought it completely impossible. When students are given the opportunity, they'll step up to the plate. They'll accept that responsibility, especially if there's an interest in it," Matile said. "We've got some ideas on where we'd like to see things go, we just have to figure out if it's doable at this point."