Settling in front of a video camera before co-anchoring the morning news at Hand Middle School on South Ann Street, Nasiyah Albright, 13, fretted that her hair was a mess. (It was fine.)
Meanwhile, Omayra Pagan, 13, agreed to operate the teleprompter because classmate Heavynn Rodriguez, who normally runs the script-displaying device, was at band practice.
Then the phone rang in the makeshift studio, and Khaseim Rhymes, 12, who was settled at the anchor desk ready to co-host the show, got called away for voice lessons.
So it went Tuesday as a handful of students along with teacher Shayne Meadows wrestled with the unexpected in getting WHYW’s two-minute daily program recorded, edited and uploaded to YouTube for viewing by Hand’s 500-member student body.
“Good morning, Hurricanes. I’m Nasiyah.”
“And I’m Eliani,” said Eliani Aybar, 11, as the pair launched into a breezy report on the weather, the sale of pink T-shirts to benefit breast cancer survivors, the school store hours, applications for a trip to Japan, and what’s cooking for lunch: creamy chicken and pasta with steamed broccoli, a banana and a chocolate chip cookie.
Approaching its first anniversary, WHYW is one of several city youth programs run by Advantage Lancaster, a small nonprofit formerly called Exit Lancaster.
The organization, co-founded in 2002 by Meadows, a sixth-grade math teacher at Hand, also offers a six-week summer enrichment program, after-school tutoring at McCaskey High School, and a nearly full-ride scholarship for participants accepted into Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
Last October, after raising $9,000 for studio equipment and then recruiting promising students to learn broadcasting skills, Meadows watched with satisfaction as WHYW went live and began to transform the school experience for inner-city tweens.
“He makes you feel like you can do it,” said Alizea “Ecy” Rodriguez, 13, who described herself as shy even though she capably hosts a special 60-second segment in which she interviews a teacher or professional in the community, asking them quirky questions.
Ecy, for example, asked this reporter, “Corvette or Camaro? ... Mike Schmidt or Cal Ripken?”
Shamell Burke, 13, is a lanky, soft-spoken basketball hotshot who has little interest in speaking at a camera but has found he has a knack for videography and still photography.
“It feels good,” said Shamell, a Nikon D3200 in his hands. “It’s something I can do that not everyone can do.”
Middle school celebs
Seventh-grader Nasiyah sparkles in front of a camera, but says what she really loves is editing the raw video, adding music, photos and text, and giving the finished piece a professional sheen.
All of the students say they value WHYW not only for the opportunity to learn cool things, but also because their studio pals feel like family.
Those who go on camera say they also don’t mind the attention they get out and about in the halls.
“A lot of students are like ‘Look! That’s Ecy!’ ” the bright-eyed eighth-grader said.
Meadows thinks other middle schools should consider a similar broadcasting program. The benefits, he said, include kids looking forward to school and keeping up with lessons. Participation is conditional on good grades.
It took four takes to videotape Tuesday’s show.
“You don’t have energy. You both need energy,” said Meadows in coaching co-anchors Nasiyah and Eliani after an unsatisfactory first take. “At least say good morning to each other. How you doin’ today. Give me something.”
Other issues cropped up. The script, for example, had mistakes. The pace of the teleprompter was tripping up the anchors.
Although Meadows resorted to giving Omayra hand signals to speed up or slow down the teleprompter and Nasiyah found herself squinting to read it, the fourth take was golden. Or close enough.
“Good job,” Meadows said. He slapped hands with the anchors and sent them off to class.