On the air with the Bristol Bears

       On this particular Friday at 8 a.m., Bristol Elementary Principal Stephen Ferguson is sitting behind a table in the school library wearing a large Cat in the Hat hat and holding a microphone in his hand.
        About 15 feet away, two fifth-graders train video cameras on different parts of the table area, which is additionally populated by a student (Kassidy Van Devender) and two adults in the public eye (KCME disc jockey Lenny Mazel and Pikes Peak District librarian Nancy Maday).
       Other students and staff sit or stand behind a slew of filming equipment connected to the cameras. School librarian Joan Grant checks that all is is ready and the signal is given.
       For the next half-hour, the cameras record such highlights as Mazel's juggling prowess, a student weather report, numerous Ferguson jokes, a schedule of Read Across America events later that day (this explains his hat), a police officer's presentation, and a student comedy duo.
       And thus (with the exception of final staff editing), another weekly installment of the Bristol Bear News (BBN) - the only elementary school TV show of its kind in District 11 - will be set for the district's Channel 16 airwaves.
        The program, now in its third year, is an extracurricular activity that provides an opportunity for students to gain first-hand experience in television work. As a result of rotating in new crews every five weeks, about 40 fifth-graders will get involved during the school year, according to Grant, who coordinates the BBN in conjunction with Ferguson and several teachers.
       “We want as many kids to have the experience as we can,” she said.
       Ferguson said he likes the “nice environment” the program fosters in the school. “The kids learn a lot about responsibility and teamwork,” he said. “They get involved in setting up and breaking down the equipment.”
        The show gets watched by other students when it's aired on Channel 16. “The kids are glued to it,” Ferguson said. “It's people they know.”
       The BBN is not an activity where students can just slide by. A 20-minute training session once a week is all the preparation crew members get before taking their assigned stations at the cameras, the VCR, the switcher (which determines which camera shot is being used) or the soundboard for the Friday taping.
       “Remembering what we did in practice” is the most challenging thing about the activity, said student Karina Meraz, a former crew member who now works sometimes on the other side of the camera as a BBN weather reporter substitute.
        Making things interesting is that a student has to learn a new task each of the five weeks he or she is a BBN crew member.
       “There's not much training,” Grant agreed. “They know they have to rise to the occasion, so they really pay attention.”
       It's not totally sink or swim. There's a staffer at each of the stations to help out if one of the students forgets what to do.
       Another hard part, noted both Meraz and Karmen Zerr, is the punctuality demand of the weekly broadcast. If a crew member is late, an experienced back-up person (such as Zerr, a former crew member who shows up for that purpose) will take his or her place.
       Not all fifth-graders get to be involved in BBN. It's a privilege for students who have tended to show the best citizenship, Grant said.
       A former Bristol parent, Jandy Barentine, wrote a grant that obtained the equipment for the school about three years ago. “Our interest was to do videos about the images painted on Bristol's murals (led by the late Kathy Halstead Barnes) to teach the students about them,” Grant explained.
       As school staff became more knowledgeable about the capabilities and intricacies of the equipment, the weekly broadcast evolved, she said. Past programs have covered student council, community personalities and class projects such as bug studies, bats and pilgrims. Ferguson normally serves as host.
       Although it means work over and beyond her regular library duties, Grant enjoys being able to expose students to the technology and see them gain confidence in using advanced technology. She also is gratified when she hears from students such as Meraz and Jacob Wright that they are now thinking about making such work a career, while another, Zabi Kazemi, is not too many degrees away in aiming at computer engineering.
       “I like getting stuff ready to go, taking care of the equipment,” Wright said proudly.
        It's possible he'll walk someday in the footsteps of one of the earlier BBN crew members, now a seventh-grader, who, according to Grant, has evolved into a kind of “technology troubleshooter” at Holmes Middle School.
        For now, however, Wright and his colleagues are the seasoned veterans, setting an example for the fourth-graders who will be doing BBN next year. And thus the show goes on at Bristol Elementary.

Westside Pioneer article