CR’s Rider News students develop stories through wider lens

Caesar Rodney High School junior Teri Bell works on one of her Rider News assignments. (Submitted photo)

CAMDEN — New or tried-and-true hobbies. Vlogs capturing a month of the pandemic a few seconds at a time. Explainers on the election.

As students across the state have grappled with uncertainty in their education and the challenges 2020 has brought in general, a group of students at Caesar Rodney High School are telling those stories.

“I feel like it’s just important to keep the whole student body involved because, if it was just a teacher-run news thing, nobody would want to watch that,” said Teri Bell, a junior. “Especially now, since we don’t see each other in person, the fact that they still have some kind of familiarity with the student news is helpful.”

When school buildings closed in March after COVID-19 cases started to rise in Delaware, Rider News had to change to match. A group of Elise Knable’s students stepped up to continue shooting the program, which is released on the CRN Rider News YouTube channel.

Chayse Ford, a senior at Caesar Rodney High School, edits a video for class. (Submitted photo)

“We shifted the content, where we weren’t necessarily covering school and community events. We instead tried to produce content that connected more with the current situation,” Ms. Knable said.

Stories became about wellness, and there were public service announcements about mental health. Lower-level students put together “boredom busters,” and the news team developed briefs for changing school schedules.

“It has definitely shifted what we’re covering content-wise, and (we’re) trying to make the content more culturally responsive to the community as a whole,” she said.

One student filmed herself every day for a month, each day saying something positive — it ranged from seeing a dog, to finishing Advanced Placement exams, to getting into Stanford.

As school kicked off this year — still colored by uncertainty, as many schools like Caesar Rodney have now moved to remote instruction until the new year — students have continued telling the stories of their peers.

Bryanna Conley, a senior at Caesar Rodney High School, works on a video for Rider News. She’s part of the team keeping her peers in the loop, and bringing them stories while they’re separated. (Submitted photo)

“I felt like it’s been just really interesting because I’ve also asked my friends like what would you want to watch and stuff,” Teri said. “So I feel, since it’s not just directly school-related, we get to actually report on things that people are more like willing to take the time out of their day to watch.”

For the first assignment, students were tasked with coming up with a story about the pandemic. Bryanna Conley, a senior, chose to interview her friend, Priya Gupta, who had taken up cooking and baking in the months since COVID-19 shut down schools.

“It kind of popped into my head because, as a senior, when I’m going off to college, I’ll kind of have to fend for myself eventually,” she said. “And I know, watching my brother — because he’s currently in college — I want to be a little bit more prepared.”

Through a partnership with PBS’s Student Reporting Labs, Bryanna’s piece will be honed a bit more before it’s released as a PBS video.

“It was a really insightful piece about a student picking up a different hobby because that’s one thing we’ve talked a lot about on the news … find things to enrich at home because we can’t in school,” Ms. Knable said.

For senior Chayse Ford, producing music is one of his hobbies. In his first piece, he interviewed his friend about music and what it means to him. Between the questions, Chayse wove in b-roll of him producing music and recorded a voice-over talking about how important music is.

“Regarding the pandemic, let’s be real, it took a toll on a lot of people, especially me,” he said. “I was losing my mind. Making music had to be something that kind of got my mind clear … It was very therapeutic for me.”

Ms. Knable noted that she’s told her students to find topics they’re passionate about.

“Then you’re going to enjoy producing the piece,” Ms. Knable said. “I think that I’m seeing that come through with this opportunity that they’re having right now at home, because they’re able to connect more.”

The students will next be tackling a cultural piece.

“We’re trying to spread the idea of being culturally responsive within our community. We have a diverse community at the school; we have a diverse community in Delaware,” Ms. Knable said. “So I gave them options that ranged from producing a story about a specific culture or a specific person, to producing content that just was about that idea of cultural awareness. I thought it was a way to address this idea of equity, and being culturally rounded individuals.”

While their news has always been educational, Ms. Knable said, it is going further to extend awareness through projects like these. Some of Ms. Knable’s students work on a podcast and for one project are interviewing teachers about online learning and resources for students. As the election was unfolding, one student talked with a teacher about the process, why there were recounts, etc.

“When we do go back, when it’s normal in-person school, a lot of the changes and a lot of the informed decisions I’ve made now are going to carry over,” she said. “We’re still going to go back and cover school content but I’m also going to start having them do different stories that aren’t school-based as well because I see a deeper connection with producing the story.”

Beyond keeping their school community in the loop, the students will also leave high school with news segments that they helped craft from pitch to completion.

“I think, with making videos, it’s a way to kind of express yourself and give yourself an outlet and kind of make yourself vulnerable in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily have done otherwise,” Bryanna said.