MANATEE — Just like any weekday morning in the studio, the local news team prepares to go on the air.
This fledgling cast doesn’t need makeup or hairspray and is not broadcasting to residents in Tampa Bay.
They are much too young for that.
“OK, let’s sound enthusiastic,” 10-year-old Teleprompter operator Jessica O’Dell says just a few minutes before the show goes live inside a studio at Rowlett Magnet Elementary School.
“Happy children, happy children,” teacher and producer Dave Walters shouts as two fourth-grade anchors behind a news desk sit up straight, then smile big.
“Five, four, three, two,” Walters counts down, holding up a finger when it’s show time.
This team of fourth and fifth graders produce the eight-minute newscast each morning. With the help of Walters, the crew keeps their schoolmates up to date on the latest Rowlett happenings.
They’re just one of the district’s elementaries that air a morning news program at school.
Principal Brian Flynn said the program helps expose students to different career options and allows students to build communication skills.
In addition to letting kids know what’s for lunch, there are student interviews, teacher reminders, classroom news and interesting facts of the day.
“People who live in Spain are Spanish,” 10-year-old anchor Laura McKenna announced Wednesday as she sat at the news desk.
“People who live in other countries where they speak Spanish are Hispanic,” her 9-year-old co-anchor Yoshua Torralva added. “Now here’s Lizeth Diaz from Ms. Daniel’s class with what’s for lunch today.”
Thanks to camera operator Tony Plancharte, 10, the shot quickly panned to Lizeth, who sits on a stool wearing an oversized pair of purple heart sunglasses.
“Chicken tenders, hash browns ... chocolate milk, cha, cha, cha,” she said, spouting off the day’s menu.
Before finding themselves in front or behind the camera, students are chosen through in-studio auditions, Flynn said. The cast rotates each month to give more kids a chance to participate.
Close to 100 students work in the studio each school year, Walters said.
But the show’s assistant producer, Amanda Lam, 10, stays year round.
“I pick one responsible student each year so if there is a time when I’m absent, she can pretty much run the show,” Walters said.
Each morning, Flynn and a guest co-host also discuss the latest Rowlett community headlines and put out a joke of the day.
“It’s an early out day today, and it’s also a staff early out day today ... teachers don’t leave any rubber on the way out,” Flynn said, as he sat beside his 9-year-old co-host Alex Dietz, who laughed.
When the program started 10 years ago, school staffers ran the show for the first few months while students were trained.
And it’s a good thing students took over, Flynn said.
“We realized kids pay much more attention to other children than adults,” Flynn said, then smiled.
Bayshore and Bashaw elementary are two other schools in the district that have a news show.
Most of the middle schools have them and all the high school students can take a class dedicated to production and performance for morning announcements, said Doug Wagner, the district’s director of technical education.
“We’ve got some kids at Southeast High School who have worked their way up from elementary school who could go straight to work in the television production industry,” Wagner said. “Students are immersed daily in the television medium so why not understand what it takes to produce a television show starting at a young age so they can appreciate it and to help develop their technological skills and interest.”