BEMIDJI -- Fifth-graders Liam Larson and Reid Zeman stood in front of a camera on Wednesday in Gene Dillon Elementary, ready to give a weather report as part of a weekly broadcast. Another student stood behind the camera, making sure everything was on track.

“Are we in the center?” Larson asked, referring to the frame of the video.

With lapel mics clipped to their shirts, the two students proceeded to give a rundown on the temperature as well as the chance for precipitation.

Known as the Eagle Eye News, the program gives students the chance to learn some of the technical skills associated with broadcasting while also building their social abilities. The opportunity is as new as Gene Dillon itself, which opened in the fall of 2018.

The class' teacher, Travis Whittington, said it is a good chance for students to build multiple skill sets through project-based assignments.

“They have to go up to somebody that they don’t know, ask their name, ask them a question and then respond in an appropriate manner,” Whittington said. “Plus -- they have to pitch their own ideas… and come up with a plan and execute it. It’s just your project-based learning, which is the best way to learn.”

Ami Aalgaard, principal of Gene Dillon Elementary, said the news program is part of the school's programming aimed at students who excel, known as X-STEAM. Normal STEAM education stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics. Aalgaard said X-STEAM could be described as an elevated level of the normal STEAM programming.

“It's a little bit more independent," Aalgaard said.

Aalgaard also said it's exciting to have student-driven projects that speak to other students.

"Kids guiding and leading other young people is really powerful," Aalgaard said.

Whittington reiterated that as well.

"Kids love seeing themselves; they love seeing their friends; they love seeing content they created," Whittington said.

Travis Whittington, STEAM teacher at Gene Dillon Elementary, talks to his fifth-grade students on Wednesday about their projects during their weekly Eagle Eye News broadcast. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Travis Whittington, STEAM teacher at Gene Dillon Elementary, talks to his fifth-grade students on Wednesday about their projects during their weekly Eagle Eye News broadcast. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

After the students first trickled into the classroom on Wednesday, Whittington, handed out assignments. After that, the students scattered. The students get to rotate through the different responsibilities, so everyone gets a chance to try everything.

Larson and Zeman grabbed a laptop and started researching the weather. Melena Woods grabbed an iPad and left the room to film another classroom where students were doing the Pledge of Allegiance.

The weekly broadcast also involves other elements, such as a question of the day, skits, and issues around the school that need to be addressed. On Wednesday, McKenzie Benson and Norah Jacobson demonstrated the proper way to walk down a hallway at school. For another broadcast, students did a segment on the correct way to play flag football.

Whittington said some of the students even help with editing the footage, although that is done outside the normal class period.

After one pair of students would finish their segment, they’d rotate out, and another couple of students would step between the camera and the large green screen that was set up in the corner of the room.

From time to time, one of the students would fumble a line. So, they would start over and repeat the dialogue, slightly differently than the time before. Come Friday, all that work goes into a brief broadcast that is shown to all the other students in the school.

“I just think it’s a really fun activity,” Larson said. “It’s cool to see yourself on video, and the whole class is watching you.”