Middle Schools : Illnois : That's News to Them
LOCATED 65 MILES SOUTH of St. Louis on thelimestone bluffs of the Mississippi is the sleepy river town ofChester, IL. Take a stroll around the city and you’ll quicklyget a feel for days gone by, when steamboat passengers andriver men sojourned in the rolling hills and cartoonist E.C.Segar sat penciling his first sketches of the spinach-eatingsailor named Popeye. But peek inside the windows of aclassroom at Chester Grade School (CGS), and you’ll findmiddle school students using technology to gear up for afuture in the 21st-century workforce.
Chester Community Unit School District 139’s transition into a high-tech institution began with the help of an Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) competitive grant. The grant, awarded during the 2005-2006 school year, gave the district some much-needed funding for technology integration. The money allowed for a variety of new gadgets and programs to be incorporated into each of the district’s classrooms, but the single biggest asset that resulted from the EETT grant is CGSTV, a news station run by Chester’s middle school students.
CGSTV was born during the 2007-2008 school year, when CGS Principal Tim Lochhead used some of the district’s EETT grant money to go 50/50 with the city of Chester on the purchase of local cable access station Channel 10.
“The TV station is designed to be a pipeline of information about all school and community events in Chester,” says Lochhead. “We have already shown many events and programs that are happening in our schools, and the city has used the channel to broadcast community events, such as Chester Clean-Up Day [a communitywide program that offers free pickup of unused household items and yard debris] and area football and baseball games.”
CGS students in grades 6 to 8 participate in all facets of producing CGSTV newscasts, using a variety of technologies, including computers, digital cameras, high-definition video cameras, and wireless equipment. They also use software to produce, enhance, and edit their productions. Using Adobe Visual Communicator 3 software, for instance, students can access playback screens, teleprompters, and greenscreen technology. When newscasts are ready, students use a system that turns their creations into slides and feeds them to Channel 10 for broadcasting.
In the CGSTV studio, you’ll find students suggesting camera angles and editing news clips, and congratulating each other for their hard work with high fives and declarations of “Awesome!”
“The students are so eager and excited about being active participants in the whole process,” says Lochhead.
Many Chester residents seem to be just as excited about CGSTV as the students who participate in producing the newscasts. “Community involvement and response has been incredible,” says Lochhead. “I can’t go anywhere without someone stopping me and telling me about something they have seen about the school on Channel 10.”
Chester residents can look forward to more student-community involvement through the cable access channel. Soon, the school will begin producing videos and commercials for local businesses. Beginning this fall, CGSTV newscasts will be shown on a daily basis, and students and faculty will view them on the Smart Boards that are set up in each classroom throughout the district.
Without the EETT grant, technology integration programs such as CGSTV probably would not have been possible at Chester Community Unit School District 139. “The grant has totally changed the way our students learn,” says Lochhead. “The technical skills and social interaction that the students are learning are invaluable and provide all students a future without boundaries.”
Jamey Baiter is a principal consultant in the Division of Curriculumand Instruction for the Illinois State Board of Education.
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.