By Joshua Benton
DUNCANVILLE – She might not yet have the cultivated perkiness of a Katie Couric – she’s only 12, after all – but Morgan Turner already knows how to deliver a line with vigor.
“Welcome to Good Morning Smith Academy!” she says into the mike. “We’re proud to be part of your morning!”
Morgan is one of five sixth-graders at Smith Academy of Arts and Sciences who puts together a 10-minute morning TV show for the school’s students. Curious about whether it’s cheesy chicken bake or beef steak fingers at the cafeteria today? Need to know where that student council meeting will be this afternoon? Good Morning Smith is the place to turn.
“The kids are learning a lot, particularly about being smooth under pressure,” said Jeff Johnson, a science teacher who helped organize the show. “Some of the kids who are shy in class can sit down in front of the camera and have no problems.
“I teach every day, and I sometimes have a problem in front of the camera.”
The broadcasts began last semester after the Duncanville ISD Foundation awarded the school a $1,400 grant to buy equipment. While the show isn’t live, it’s awfully close. Taping starts about 7:40 a.m., and with airtime only 15 minutes later, there’s little margin for error and no time for a second take.
A recent show began with Morgan Turner’s intro before a segue into the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge. Off camera, Mr. Johnson reminded the two anchors, Morgan Jones and Krystal Pena, to slow their pace next time: “The younger kids are still learning the pledges, and they need to hear all the words.”
After a brief weather update came cafeteria time, when Jennifer Washington told students that it was their lucky day: Both cheesy chicken bake and beef steak fingers would be served at lunch. Then the anchors returned with the day’s announcements, giggling only slightly when the topic of lice checks came up.
Finally, Jennifer and Morgan Turner shared a few words of wisdom for the day – “Never deprive someone of hope, it might be all they have” – and signed off to the sounds of jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet’s “St. Louis Blues.”
The broadcasts have made minor celebrities out of the show’s stars, particularly among the younger set at this kindergarten through sixth-grade school. Eran Bryant, a 12-year-old who anchored the show last semester, became a campus star with his onscreen antics, most memorably a raised-eyebrow shtick modeled after wrestler The Rock. Probably his being the only boy on the show helped, too.
“People liked the eyebrow thing,” he said, reflecting back on his days in the spotlight. “The little kids wanted my autograph. It was pretty fun.”
Surprisingly, the students said they are not planning careers in television, but all said they were having fun. “I like being on the spot,” Morgan Jones said. “We can’t redo anything. If you mess up, it’s over. We taped a whole show without sound by mistake once.”
The daily programs don’t change much, except for the addition of a joke-telling time on Fridays. (“They’re not that funny,” Jennifer acknowledges.) But the students and teachers have plans to expand the programming.
They plan to air commercials for the goodies they’ll hawk at a bake sale. Once the teachers figure out the technology, they’ll send students to report on events around the school. And Mr. Johnson hopes to have the students take over his job of writing the show’s script every day.
“Over time, as they learn more, they’ll be handling more and more of the details,” he said.