Manitoba students have been out of their classrooms for two months — but at a rural school that produces a daily live newscast, the show must go on.
Every day at 10 a.m., dozens of students and their families in Rosenort — all safely distanced in their own homes — gather around their computer screens to tune in to their local news.
“Kids are sending in clips from home, science experiments and pet profiles, and just fun little things here and there,” said Tyler Kornelsen, Rosenort School’s vice-principal and the teacher in charge of the broadcast program.
“It’s just a great way for them to stay connected, to be able to see their classmates doing things on the news and also to see their teachers reading the news as well.”
Students in grades 5 through 8 at the school — which has a student population of 279, from kindergarten to Grade 12 — have been producing a newscast in place of morning announcements for over a year.
It began as a way to keep students in the community of about 700, roughly 50 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, engaged in school activities while allowing them to get a bit more creative with the delivery.
“We went from reading the announcements over the intercom to doing a live news broadcast on YouTube for all of the classes to watch in the morning,” said Kornelsen.
The show goes on during school closure
The school streams the show, called R360 News, on the school’s YouTube channel.
It’s gone from being a five-minute live show to running about 15 minutes, since in-school classes were last held in March.
“When everything started and we were told that we were no longer going to be meeting in the schools, I thought it was really important to keep that sense of community with our students and our teachers,” said Kornelsen.
WATCH | A compilation of past episodes of R360 News:
The show, normally anchored by a pair of Grade 7 students, covers what’s happening with the school’s sports teams, science experiments and school functions.
Students and parents are now encouraged to send video submissions about what kids are up to as they learn at home.
The show continues to be broadcast live from the school with the help of a handful of teachers still working in the building, who are now tasked with reading the morning news.
“A lot of them enjoy doing it. Some I kind of have to twist their arm a little bit by the end,” Kornelsen joked.
The kids can also log on to the channel from home and participate in a group chat as they watch the show live.
Families tune in from home
It’s not just students who tune in each day, Kornelsen said. Parents also say it helps the whole family stay in touch with what’s happening at the school.
“We love our 360,” said parent Heather Plett, who has three kids who go to the school.
“We are so thankful for the fact that it’s continuing to be aired while we’re all going through this together … especially for the kids, because their lives are already kind of thrown into such a weird state of abnormality.”
Plett said her kids, who range from kindergarten to Grade 8, tune in every day to see the show and have a laugh.
“Everybody’s always kind of waiting [for the show to start], or if we’ve gotten busy with something somebody will come running in, saying ‘Our 360 is on,’ and so we gotta get it on right away.”
Kornelsen said the show usually garners about 70 to 90 viewers while it’s live, but many more watch it after it’s been posted to the channel.
Creative outlet for students
Isaiah Friesen, 13, is normally a field reporter and co-anchor for the show, but has been sending in videos from home during the pandemic.
He said he enjoys being able to use his public speaking and acting skills, and says the newscast gives him an opportunity to get involved in school activities that aren’t sports.
“I’m really into business and I like real estate,” said Friesen, adding that one of his favourite stories was a report on Manitoba’s deputy premier.
“For me it’s mainly a creative output, because right now we’re kind of stuck at home.… So I really enjoy it.”
Friesen’s co-anchor, Ryleigh Schellenberg, says she’s normally busy with multiple sports, and her on-air gig is more of a hobby.
“Sometimes we go out for interviews and it’s nice meeting new people,” she said.
Since students have been stuck at home, Schellenberg said the newscast has given her a means to keep in touch with her classmates.
“It’s great to have us all connected and just being able to see what everybody’s up to at home,” she said.
‘We try to have fun with it’
The show often features special guest appearances, ranging from school alumni to popular athletes.
Some of the notable guests include federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Winnipeg-born Broadway actor Samantha Hill, and Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“For our school culture, it has been amazing,” said Kornelsen.
The show also offers a healthy dose of humour, using witty descriptions for its on-air personalities, who also sometimes ad lib their material.
There are segments for telling jokes, answering trivia questions, and posing challenges for students to get involved.
“We try to have fun with it,” said Kornelsen.
“[We] try to throw in a few jokes here and there or do some funny stuff as well, and try [to] make everything grand and bigger than it is … even though it’s just for a small rural school,” said Kornelsen.
The show not only offers students a chance to be involved in school activities, but serves as a sort of virtual yearbook for kids to look back on, he said.
“It’s just really neat to see that kids take pride in the things that we’re doing in our school in athletics and in the classrooms. And so for us to be able to feature that, and have it for them, they’ll be able to watch it for years.”
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