Kentwood — Junior Zy’Aire Davis wrote her script on East Kentwood High School’s Black History Month activities for the next day’s recording of Falcon News Network.
She interviewed Arianna Thomas, a member of the Black Student Union for the segment the day before and was preparing the video. Her script would go to the anchors to read for the Friday broadcast.
“Piecing everything together to see the final outcome is exciting,” Zy’Aire said, noting that she sees the progress in her work this school year as she has developed her skills.
FNN headquarters is a busy place. The crew of young journalists produce, direct and report to create the approximately seven-minute broadcast that airs in school on Wednesday and Friday, recorded on the previous day.
As Zy’Aire got to work, the crew was busy with many other projects. Assignments on the white board listed segments on “HBCUs and Leaving Legacies,” “Exchange Student Check-In,” Ramadan, “Senior Showcase,” Dance Team, e-sports and more.
Junior Kerim Suleman was assigned a segment on mental health. He has also worked on stories about a retiring coach and an art teacher.
“The more news stories I’ve done, the more editing, the more recording, the more confident I’m talking to people. I feel like, even talking to strangers — that’s the one thing you kind of have to do when you’re at EK because it’s such a big school,” Kerim said.
Preston Donakowski, Falcon News Network and video production teacher, said FNN is the penultimate class at East Kentwood for students who have an interest in video production.
The former TV news anchor at WBKB-TV in Alpena and WGVU took over the class last January, starting with eight students. He began recruiting and redesigned the curriculum. Close to 70 students signed up for the course this school year; Donakowsi interviewed applicants and chose 24 for FNN.
‘They get a taste of the real world.’— Preston Donakowski, Falcon News Network and video production teacher
The class began with a “reporter bootcamp” that included the history of journalism, media literacy, fact checking and editing.
“It’s all student-driven,” Donakowski said. “They send their emails for organized interviews. They grab the cameras to start filming, they film, they come back and edit, they write their script and then they put it together for the show.
Classes start with a news meeting, chatting about what is happening around school. They cover everything from human interest profiles on teachers and students to classroom activities and informational news items.
They also learn what it’s like to be a journalist, and about related fields.
“They get a taste of the real world. We talk about jobs in journalism. I really emphasize that you can use these skills in other professions,” Donakowski said, noting that advertising, public relations and social media management are other options.
They also take on special projects, including a 30-second public service announcement about sportsmanship and referee recruitment.
The team of juniors Diego Saldivar, Zy’Aire, Jaiysa Sepulveda, Yanissa Ambrose, Kerim, and senior Jason Yosifovski, are 2023 Michigan Association of Broadcasters award finalists in the PSA category. Along with professional and college awards, MAB honors high school students as well. The contest received 540 entries from 43 different high schools and colleges. Rockford and Cedar Springs high schools are finalists in other categories, and Rockford is also a finalist in the PSA category. Winners will be announced at a Student Awards Luncheon on March 15 in Lansing.
FNN’s PSA features a student in class trying to take a test, with a parent screaming at her as she’s trying to focus. It ends with the message: “You wouldn’t do this in their classroom. So why do it at their game?” and a message to sign up to be a Michigan High School Athletic Association referee.
“It feels really good to be a finalist. We’ve learned a lot of things in class. Time management, that’s a really big thing. We entered this contest seven days before the deadline. We really had to push through. We had to pick a classroom, pick a teacher, pick the actors. We had to edit. We had to do all that,” Jaiysa said.
Pulling off the PSA took lots of collaboration, Diego said.
“We have different people with different talents. We have people on camera work, editing, directing, so we had to be able to work as a group.”