A group of fifth- and sixth-graders from Hooker Oak Elementary get opinionated on KZFR
Thirty-two students are sitting on the floor of a crowded Hooker Oak Elementary School fifth-/sixth-grade classroom listening to Ms. N explain to them about commentaries. She’s not the teacher but a parent of one of the students, and she’s invited them all to write and record commentaries for KZFR.
“Do we have to do this?” asks one of the students.
“Yes! It’s your writer’s workshop for this month,” says the teacher, Beth Geise.
“You have to write the commentary, but you don’t have to record it if you don’t want to,” says Ms. N.
“Is there anything we can’t write about?” asks one of the students.
“You can’t advocate the use of drugs, because the station has a policy that they don’t promote drug use, and you can’t use bad words,” Ms. N answers.
“Can we do our commentaries for a different station?”
“NO!” Ms. Geise answers.
The kids adjourn to their assigned seats. Many of them already have ideas and run them past each other.
“I’m writing about how our teacher won’t let us wear hats. Maybe it will change her mind,” says Deva Esposito, a talkative fifth-grader.
“I’m writing mine on how things always hit me on the head,” says sixth-grader Myles Townsell, generally acknowledged as the class clown. Most of the students settle in to write their rough drafts. A few moan about how they can’t think of anything to write about.
“I’m a boy who loves hats. I always wore hats until fifth grade. I wore hats at school, at home and to bed. But then my fifth grade teacher told us that we are no longer aloud (sic) to wear hats. HOLY CRAP!!! This was devastating for me and two other guys in my class. A part of me was missing. I tried almost 30 different arguments! Several almost worked, but I never won. But it’s hot. But they’re cool. But, but, aw man! I tried wearing a hat. No. I tried wearing a beanie. No. I tried a visor. No. But the thing about hats is they are our history. Abraham Lincoln wore a hat. George Washington, our first president, wore a hat. Hats are a passion. They can show a mood. They can advertise for a business. They can root for your team on game day.
Gosh, people just love hats. To wear a hat is our right. But unfortunately my teacher Cindy doesn’t think it is our right. She says it is impolite. So we can’t wear hats. Shoot.
A few days later Ms. N is back with rough drafts in hand.
“I’m going to pass these back to you now. Some of these have comments on them about what needs to be changed. Some are ready to be typed up. Remember to put the time at the top and double space!”
“Will you read some of them to us?” Gina Metzger asks.
“Well, since you asked, I’ll read yours.” She begins to read (above the groans of Gina) a well-written commentary on what it’s like to have braces. “See how she lets us know in the first sentence what her commentary will be about?”
Ms. N digs through a pile of rough drafts and says, “Here’s one where I’ll just read the introduction. It’s D.J. Lay’s, and it reads, ‘What’s the most brain-rotting, thumb-hurting thing you can think of?’ Doesn’t that make you want to hear the rest of it?”
“Read the rest! Read the rest!” the students clamor, but they’re sent to their seats and the rough drafts are handed back.
“Mine says it’s ready to go!” says Molly O’Regan.
“Mine too!” says Hillary Colby. Both girls are sports-loving sixth-graders on the fast track to radio land. They’ll be in the first group to go to KZFR station to record.
My orthodonture is a pain in the neck, er, I mean mouth. One time my teacher, in front of the whole class, announced that I had headgear. It almost made me cry. Also, it’s really embarrassing if you are at a fancy restaurant, the waiter comes to bring your food and you take your retainer off and it’s filled with saliva.
Ms. N works the room, giving hints on how to make the needed changes.
“Come on, Deva, is your teacher just mean or does she have a reason why she doesn’t want you to wear hats?”
“She thinks it’s rude,” Deva replies, rolling his eyes at the absurdity of such an idea.
“Well, just put in one little sentence then that says just that. She thinks it’s rude.”
“Riley, this is a great, but you can’t actually name the business. How else could you word that first sentence?” Riley Hitchcock, the new girl in class, takes out the name of the locally owned business that her family had a bad experience with and begins her essay: “Sometimes businesses have really nice people working there and sometimes they don’t.”
Suddenly, a gasp is heard from a table of four girls. Ms. N ventures over.
“They can’t believe that I’ve never been to Lulu’s,” says Chalise Vandermate, a very fashionable girl.
“Loren, do you understand the comment I wrote?”
“Yes,” Loren Feulner responds, “I can write about Lulu’s, but it can’t sound like a commercial. I’m going to say Lulu’s is a good example of a cool store because … and then list things. Is that OK?”
Best friends Tylan Selby (who wrote about soda at school) and Gidon Segal (who disagreed with a school policy) go outside in the hall to read each other their commentaries and time them. All the kids seem busy, some writing, some doing read-throughs and others typing. The room is abuzz with opinions.
I think that women should have a professional softball league… People seem to like watching men play professional baseball; why should women playing softball be any different? Women should have all the rights that men do in work and sports. For that matter, women should have all the rights that men do everywhere.
A week later, the kids who have their final drafts ready go out in the hall one at a time to do a read-through with Ms. N. She tells each student the same thing.
“Now, when you read these at the radio, you don’t want to sound like you’re reading a book report. Try to read it like you are talking to a friend.”
Kierstie reads lightning fast. “I have a problem with cheerleaders. Well, only two, but you get what I mean.” She’s instructed to take a deep breath and slow down.
A few students read their work completely deadpan.
“Hillary, I thought you loved the Giants and Barry Bonds … Look, you even wrote LOVE in capital letters. You’ve got to say it like you LOVE them.
“Shannon, I know how you feel about your pets, but it’s not coming across in your voice. Can you sound a little happier when you talk about Rosie and Joie and Rapp?”
But a few students have a natural calm in their voice and don’t need much practice at all: Gracie, the champion of clothing reform, Jaron, the skateboard law activist, and Ariel, intent on banishing name-calling.
Soda at School
I think soda should be allowed at junior high and high school because if students didn’t have a little bit of caffeine, they wouldn’t be able to stay awake. Then the school would get bad ratings because of low test scores. Then, they’d want soda back!
The students go to the station to record in groups of four. They get as many takes as they need. They all seem surprised at how their voices sound on tape.
“The most difficult thing about it is that you get very nervous when you are recording it, but it is very fun and exciting!” says Brixie. Delaney concurs, “Wearing headphones makes me feel proud for some reason.”
The kids’ commentary tapes began airing on Jan 8, and Deva, the boy who loves hats, had the distinction of being the first one to have his opinion played on the air. Ms. Geise now begins her new Wednesday ritual of turning on the radio to 90.1 at 9:55 a.m. in order to hear the commentary of the week.
Deva runs out of the classroom at the sound of his voice on the radio but returns to lots of positive comments from his classmates. Next week Brixie is in the girls’ bathroom during her commentary. “But I could tell people liked it because I heard them all clapping at the end.”
If you’d like more information about Kids Commentaries on KZFR, you can contact this writer at Knolan13@aol.com. And if you’re still waiting to find out what the most brain-rotting, thumb-hurting thing in the world is, tune in on April 26 and hear the answer for yourself.