Once a week, fifth-graders from Vista Grande Elementary School in Danville prepare and rehearse broadcasting local news live on Vista Grande Television (VGTV), their school's own station. They work under the guidance of adult media professionals.
Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m., the rest of the student body spends 12 to 15 minutes watching their peers report on the happenings in and around their community. Among the recent stories covered was Pearl Harbor veterans at a memorial service atop Mount Diablo talking about the other soldiers who died in the war. They also highlighted what's new at the school.
"VGTV keeps us up to date about all the activities here at Vista Grande," said first-grade teacher Rebecca Wilson. "It informs us about people and places in our community."
"It improves children's public speaking and leadership skills," she added. "It increases school unity."
Wilson's students said they enjoy watching VGTV.
"I like VGTV," said Hailey Hickey, 6. "They do sports reporting."
"I like the music," said Krista Cleary, also 6.
"I like pictures," said 7-year-old Winston Shoemaker.
Vista Grande started VGTV more than eight years ago. Fifth-graders who are elected to public positions in school, such as president, vice president and commissioner, produce the program.
Kids learn how to interview people and put together stories in a broadcast, which is aired in all Vista Grande classrooms each Wednesday morning. Students work the camera, too.
Several media professionals in the Bay Area volunteer their time and give direction to the students. Charles Traylor, a documentary maker from San Ramon, and former radio producer Leonard Nelson spend their Tuesday mornings helping the budding TV journalists at Vista Grande.
Traylor's oldest child, Pascale, was involved in VGTV in 1998.
"It's been going on for a while," he said about the program.
Some of the professional advice includes smiling and looking at the camera, giving eye contact to the interviewee and speaking concisely. One of the most important elements in a television production is being comfortable with one's self and others in front of the camera, said Nelson.
"Common advice is to recognize is that the camera is your best friend," Traylor said. "Everybody's got a best friend."
He also said taking deep breaths can help them to relax in front of the camera.
Nelson said the fifth-graders have produced stories on the lighting of the Danville Oak Tree for the Christmas holidays, Danville firemen and the construction of new buildings on campus.
"These video productions enhance students' understanding of current events and their local community through a visual medium," said Nelson, who was a producer of KNBR radio's "Frank and Mike in the Morning" show in San Francisco.
Traylor said VGTV can have a huge impact on a student's growth. He noted that working in the program has helped one student with her acting classes. Another student in a speech class has gained self-confidence in front of the camera.
"There are such a variety of skills in kids," he said, noting that they learn to hone them by being involved with VGTV.
"I enjoy it immensely," he said.