Idlewild Elementary School
Idlewild Elementary, in Memphis, Tennessee, is an old urban school with a warm, inviting atmosphere. Half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and minority enrollment comprises nearly two-thirds of the student population. The school has a science and technology focus, was a Tennessee 21st Century School, and was one of two Memphis schools chosen to be a New American School Co-NECT demonstration site. Folks at Idlewild are certainly not "idle." Good things are happening.
"Primetime" is a student-managed television station that broadcasts school-related news and feature stories throughout Idlewild using a video network called "Eaglevision." This project-based program demonstrates technology integration and community involvement. "Primetime" consists of a network that links all classrooms to a central "studio," which houses equipment used to produce and edit videotapes. Fifth and sixth grade students act as the employees of "Primetime," performing tasks related to producing and presenting video broadcasts. Students serve as reporters, news anchors, camera operators, editors, producers, and, of course, viewers. A teacher coordinates the program and maintains the equipment. Broadcasts include classroom news, messages from the principal, school safety tips, information about school events, student features, descriptions of curriculum-related activities, PTO information, or interviews.
A legitimate academic purpose underscores "Primetime." Activities address Memphis City Schools' curriculum standards in English/language arts. Students use communication skills-writing, reading, speaking, and listening -- while they learn and apply decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, creativity, and flexibility.
The program also provides opportunities for sharing classroom curriculum projects. Interviews about classroom activities in science, social studies, and other subjects have led to the production of documentaries, plays, reenactments, debates, displays, critiques, and panel discussions. Projects encompass broad topics like "The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." as an extension of Black History Month activities or "School Safety" following the Columbine tragedy. WMC-TV5 in Memphis highlighted Idlewild's "School Safety" broadcast during one of their own news broadcasts on schools' proactive measures to provide safe learning environments and reassure parents and students.
"Primetime" capitalizes on more than broadcast technology. Students use computers to collect information, analyze and evaluate data, prepare stories for broadcast, and develop on-screen graphics. Additionally, they use video, audio, and special graphics to give the broadcast a professional feel.
The teachers benefit from the technology as well. Professional development has been delivered via the network, with topics ranging from applying technology skills to using the Internet as an instructional tool.
The "Primetime" outreach extends to the community. Partnerships play a vital role in many innovative programs, and "Primetime" is no exception. Collaborative partnership is strongly encouraged to receive funding from the 21st Century Schools Program. Although the school has been adopted by several businesses in the community, one partnership--with WMC-TV5--has been significant. In addition to its role in promoting "Primetime" and as a frequent field-trip destination, many staffers at the station volunteer personal time to train students on reporting as well as using and maintaining the equipment.
Parent involvement also plays an important role in the video network. Parents volunteer, chaperone, cosponsor, advise, and support personnel. Past broadcasts are archived, and parents are welcome to borrow the videos.
Funding "Primetime" has been a challenge, but Idlewild has pieced together funds from various sources and gradually built a technology infrastructure. Total costs for the program are estimated to be $110,000. Goals 2000, a competitive grant program intended to raise student achievement, contributed $44,000. The matching money requirement was satisfied by in-kind contributions from several sources -- partners, supplemental grants, and school fund-raising initiatives. A partial infrastructure existed prior to "Primetime." The building had been wired with network access in each classroom. Ten of the 28 classrooms had been equipped with computer technology with funds from Tennessee's 21st Century Schools Program.
The other challenge continues to be finding time for all the activities involved in "Primetime." Planning, shooting, and editing programs can be very time consuming. A great deal of communication among participants is required. Personnel changes have been especially difficult, and technical failures, although expected when using equipment of this nature, are nonetheless inconvenient. But Idlewild students and instructors have faced these challenges and continue to take pride in "Primetime." Their success shows!