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Sakai Broadcasting

It’s 8:40 a.m. on a Thursday, and Terri Atkinson’s Sakai classroom is the busiest spot on earth.  Sakai Broadcasting, a live, daily show put on by this class of 6th-graders, begins filming in ten minutes, and the set has the same feeling of orchestrated chaos you’d expect in a professional news studio. The only spot of calm is the three news anchors, Luna, Ian, and Katherine, sitting on high stools in front of the camera.  The rest of the room buzzes with the excitement and challenge of putting on a live show. Lights are glaring, cameras are focused, the six students at monitors on the far side of the room are comparing notes, Ms. Atkinson and Mr. Gurlter—Sakai’s Technology Support guru—are everywhere at once.

Suddenly, Mr. Gurtler’s voice rises above it all. “Quiet on the set!” The room is instantly silent.

Ms. Atkinson asks, “Who’s on Camera One?”  “Me!” answers Jake, springing into place.  Ms. Atkinson advises the anchors to “make sure their mics are hot” and reminds them to sit up straight. Then she calls, “Quiet!  We’re live in five. Four. Three. Two. One.”

In a now silent room, the first anchor, Katherine, begins to speak, reading a welcome message from the teleprompter. She and the other anchors lead the pledge of allegiance, Ian gives a shout-out to the Sakai PTO, and then Kellen—a student from another class, sporting a fedora and cheery smile—pops in to read the day’s birthdays. When he’s finished, he wraps up his segment with the broadcast’s trademark “and back to you.” The camera swings back to the anchors as Luna seamlessly picks up the commentary, introducing Lily and Gracie with a Veteran’s Day announcement.

Every school day, 26 students create this live broadcast, setting the tone for the day at Sakai. And the tone is upbeat, energetic, and surprisingly colorful. (The broadcast is filmed in front of a green screen, and three of the students sitting at computer monitors are responsible for choosing and displaying nifty backgrounds during the show.)  Each homeroom tunes in, and for a short spurt every morning, the entire school is united in the same activity, getting the same school-wide updates, enjoying the same buoyant start to their day.

“The community has really made this happen,” says Ms. Atkinson, who’s been leading the program for 16-years.  Sakai Broadcasting began 20 years ago with a grant from BEST (Bainbridge Education Support Team), which merged with the Bainbridge Schools Trust to form what is now the Bainbridge Schools Foundation. Over the years, the format has changed as new technology has emerged with equipment purchases made possible by BSF, the Sakai PTO, and Bainbridge Island Rotary.

While Ms. Atkinson’s class officially runs the show, other students are welcome to take part. “If a student wants to do it, we figure out a way to make it work,” said Jim Corsetti, Sakai principal.

Ms. Atkinson agrees. “We pretty much make them jump right in on the first day of school,” she said. “By spring they’re running the whole show and don’t even need Mr. Gurtler or me.”

The broadcast isn’t without its challenges. Camera Two recently broke and will need to be replaced. But the students are learning to act as a team, working together to create a common product that will be enjoyed and appreciated by their peers.  Luna, the anchor, and Elsa, the teleprompter, explain that everyone rotates roles, so they get to know each job. In addition to the camera operator, anchors, green screen technicians, and teleprompter (who writes the script), there is a show director who’s responsible for getting the broadcast out to the homerooms.

When this day’s broadcast wraps, the team shifts gears to film a special segment for their Veteran’s Day show, which will air the following Friday.  The theme is women in the military, and Lily is interviewing Kellie Randall, a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer.

Moments later, the special segment is ‘in the can,’ and the guest has been thanked and escorted out of the room. Within seconds—and without being asked—the students spring into action, folding up the set. Lights are turned off and stowed, equipment is pushed against the wall, and desks are brought out, transforming the film studio into a regular classroom.

For now, the excitement of the broadcast is over and school returns to normal.  But tomorrow, the ordered chaos will be back as the students get ready to put on another show, sharing the news of another day at Sakai.  And once again, at exactly 8:50 in the morning, all will fall silent in five. Four. Three. Two. One.

Jake Cyger focuses the camera before the broadcast goes life.
Luna Steen, News Anchor, and Elsa Dow, Teleprompter
Kellen Dierks puts pizzaz into the day's birthdays.