Lights, Camera, Leadership!

A group of budding fifth-grade broadcast journalists share a blooper reel with adviser Tony Molnar

It’s 30 minutes until the end of the day at Pine Island Elementary, and in a tiny, vacant office inside the library a group of fifth-graders are nowhere near ready to leave. They’ve got a newscast to film.

First, adviser Tony Molnar addresses a group of four students outside the studio.

Emma Bennett adds background to the broadcast as reporters and the production crew look on
Emma Bennett adds background to the broadcast as reporters and the production crew look on

“You guys are going on remote,” he tells them, and off they go. Inside the studio, anchors Sienna Ouendag and Carter Weldon sit behind a table that’s been set up in front of a green piece of fabric. Producer Sophia Chiaramonte sets up the shot for first-day camera-girl Blue Sivyer, who quickly learns to give direction while holding an iPad.

Carter nails his line “I wonder what the weather will be today?” on the third take, after face-palming the first two. The miscues have everyone giggling so much they deem them worthy of the blooper reel.

“That’s what I want, is imperfection,” Molnar tells a visitor. “I kind of plan it a little bit, but the kids just dig in,” he says of the two- to three-minute newscasts. “My goal is just to give them the iPads and let them create.”

Under the direction of Molnar, a K-5 technology teacher, about a dozen fifth-graders kicked off this school year by forming a “broadcast team” charged with delivering the morning’s announcement via video. The students run all aspects of production including rotating as anchors; filming various students as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance; reporting the weather and the all-important lunch menu; and using iPads to film against a green screen to create and layer background images.

For now, Molnar collects the iPads and edits what they’ve filmed into a short news segment, but predicts that work will eventually be turned over to the students. You can see an example of their broadcasts here.

Young Leaders in the Making

“You can find 10 things in the curriculum that tie in with what they’re doing here,” Molnar says. But its most deliberate connection is its integration with “The Leader in Me,” a whole-school transformation model developed by Steven Covey based on seven habits of leadership. Each day’s newscast highlights a “leadership habit” as outlined in the program.

Principal Stacy Reehl said the broadcast team empowers students to have as much ownership as possible, and to show leadership qualities such as reliability, punctuality, confidence in public speaking and teamwork.

Pine Island and Stoney Creek elementaries received a five-year grant from the I Am A Leader Foundation to implement the program. The model has been adopted by four Comstock Park Public Schools so far.

“I feel that this is what my school needs to take it to the next level,” Reehl said. “We are a good school with good students, but I want it to be a great school with great leaders. I am amazed at the level of excitement there is among the students and the staff. Students have a voice and are feeling heard.”

Home = ‘Golden’

Molnar said he planned to air broadcasts no more than a couple times a week, but within weeks of the start of school “students made it clear they want these every day.”

In the hallways, some students address him as “Tony Molnar dot com.” He says that’s because they spend so much time on his website, which features student work and resources for technology-related projects.

“When they take the learning home, that’s golden,” he said, “and what I really like about this is that any student can do well. It’s so great to see kids who aren’t necessarily A students shine.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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