By William Croyle
VILLA HILLS - It's 8:20 a.m., just 15 minutes until air. While you might expect chaos and anxiety from a group of 10-year-olds about to go on live television, these pros are calm and composed.
They're reviewing the scripts they've written, discussing segues and offering suggestions to each other on how to liven up the newscast.
"We're not nervous. We're not shy," said Matthew Johnson.
"We're so used to it," said his fellow broadcaster Zach Day.
The veteran newscasters are part of the WRRT news team at River Ridge Elementary School that consists of 20 fifth-graders this semester and 20 fourth-graders next semester.
They arrive nearly 30 minutes before school starts each day to prepare for a five-minute broadcast to their 900-plus schoolmates on closed-circuit television.
The program began in 1995 and has become a way to convey information to the students.
"Seeing their peers on TV - it's a respect issue," said principal Kathy Brown. "I can give them any message and they will get through to the kids, because the kids listen to their peers."
This week, it's Day and Victoria Kuhlman at the anchor desk, Johnson with the lunch menu and birthday list, Heather Hadden on weather, sportscaster Annabelle Carroll and Morgann Lubbe running the camera.
"They each bring their own unique pieces," said Lynette Schroer, who has directed the newscast for nearly five years.
Kuhlman opens and closes her segment by strumming a guitar. Hadden draws a sun slightly covered by a cloud on her marker board to show that it will be a "mostly sunny day."
And then there is Johnson's chant of "Lunch! Lunch! Lunch!" as he bangs a fork and spoon on the news desk before reading the day's lunch menu. He's become a celebrity with the first-graders, who shout his chant when they see him in the cafeteria.
"We're the influences," said Johnson. "One kid even asked me for my autograph."
The broadcast takes place in a small room using one camera, a simple maroon-colored backdrop and an ordinary table where the broadcasters sit.
But for as simple as the setup is, it's a serious job with serious competition.
Nearly 60 kids tried out last year for the 20 available spots this year.
While some of the kids said it's better than doing regular morning work, they may be learning more than they realize.
"It's a chance for them to showcase their creativity, it takes their academics to another level through writing and gives them practice in public speaking, which they will use their whole life," said Schroer.
"For the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, they're seeing what they've taught come to life."
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