Every year, BBC News gives students a chance to be newsmakers for a day in front of a global audience. Through their School Report program, the BBC provides student journalists and their teachers with plans, materials and support to help them set up their own newsrooms. It’s an opportunity for students to hone their writing, researching, presenting, and editing skills as well as craft their own news stories, all while working for one of the most respected news organizations in the world.
Each spring, thousands of students across the UK participate in News Day. Previously only a nationwide event, this year participants from the British School of Beijing’s Shunyi campus (BSB Shunyi) are making history by being the first-ever students from a British School Overseas (BSO) to take part.
It’s March 27, 2014. BSB Shunyi reporters arrive at 8.30am for a day without classes; instead, they’ll be putting together a BBC newsreel for a 2pm deadline. beijingkids is on hand to follow the reporters and their teachers Laure Cundall and Sean Hickman as they progress through the highs and lows of their inaugural news day.
Cundall first started pursuing the BBC School Report project because she had seen it in operation in the UK and knew it would be beneficial for the school, the students, and the teachers. Hickman dropped by Cundall’s After School Activity (ASA) class one day, became intrigued, and never left.
The BBC team at BSB Shunyi is made up of 14 Year 7 to 9 students between the ages of 11 and 14. Because of the school’s status as the first international school to participate in the program, extra red tape meant that BSB Shunyi didn’t receive the go-ahead along with everyone else in September 2013. Instead, after much back and forth, the school was accepted into the program in late January of this year. This left students with only a two-month window in which to get ready, a period further reduced by Spring Festival vacation. To compensate, the kids have been meeting at lunch, after school, and even on weekends to develop the necessary journalistic skills for the project.
BSB Shunyi Principal Andy Puttock praises Cundall for persevering until the BBC’s legal department gave her the green light, and explains that the school was ultimately successful in its application because of its accreditation. “We’re so excited because we’re the only school the BBC has ever allowed to do this,” he says. “We are a government-accredited BSO inspected by the UK government – as opposed to just calling ourselves a British school – and that is what made the difference in the end.”
A meeting room next to the ICT lab serves as a makeshift news studio and “war room.” With everyone crowded around the boardroom table, the first order of business is divvying up tasks for the day. While researching and writing skills are a core part of the experience, students must also grapple with the technical aspects of assembling, ordering, and broadcasting the news.
Cundall checks in with each student team to ascertain the amount of work remaining on each story, and listens to their allocation of responsibilities and plan for completing their newsreels. On top of their commitments to the BBC, students must also maintain a news blog for the school website by posting hourly updates for their schoolmates, so photography and blogging responsibilities are also assigned.
With targets and timelines agreed upon, a running order of tasks is posted on the whiteboard. The meeting draws to a close and pupils scurry off to edit their stories, prepare voiceovers, and in some cases even do some last-minute filming.
In February, the school ran a trial News Day to help the students prepare for the main event. Puttock allowed the kids out of class to do a dummy run. Their main takeaway was that it wasn’t possible to film and edit on the same day, so today the teams will be working with pre-filmed footage. “Things are running a lot smoother than they did previously,” says Cundall with a smile.
“A lot of their skills are coming directly from the curriculum,” says Hickman. “We make and edit videos in the ICT program, so its second nature to most of them by now.” Cundall explains that the project is almost completely run end-to-end by the students: “We’ve tried to teach them how to do various things and then stand back and let them get on with it. A lot of the work they do in school is self-based learning. Ideally, in about three years’ time if the project keeps going, it’ll be run purely by students with minimal adult supervision. It makes it so much more interesting if students can mentor students and do it all themselves.”
Over the course of the day, it becomes clear that the School Report team runs on equal parts communication and Oreos. There are bloopers,
technical errors, tense moments over lost files, goofing around in front of the green screen, and lots of snacking. Throughout, the students make steady self-directed and collaborative progress through their list of tasks. Before lunch, the main focus for most groups is editing to reduce length, and adding music, sound, and subtitles.
Pizza arrives at noon, and it’s a testament to the kids’ commitment (and all those Oreos) that it sits cooling and untouched until Cundall practically drags them out of the editing suite to eat. After a hurried slice, the race is on to finish filming presenter cues – short sound bites that introduce each clip.
On one wall of the boardroom, there’s a mosaic of bright green, matte craft paper – a homemade green screen used to make student reporters appear as though they are standing in front of photos or video. Normally, background images are added in postproduction.
This article originally appeared on p44-47 of the beijingkids May 2014 issue. Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com.
Photos by Sui