Norwood-Fontbonne Academy eighth graders Brendan Hall (Chestnut Hill), Leo Henkels (Mt. Airy), and James McDermott (Roxborough) practice and record their Christmas radio shows. The students created deejay names, wrote scripts, selected Christmas music, and then recorded their radio broadcasts that were aired over NFA’s sound system during mornings as students arrived to school.

Norwood-Fontbonne Academy eighth graders Brendan Hall (Chestnut Hill), Leo Henkels (Mt. Airy), and James McDermott (Roxborough) practice and record their Christmas radio shows. The students created deejay names, wrote scripts, selected Christmas music, and then recorded their radio broadcasts that were aired over NFA’s sound system during mornings as students arrived to school.

by Kevin Dicciani

Christmas came early to Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.

On the mornings of Dec. 19 and 22, as students and faculty arrived on NFA’s campus, special Christmas radio shows created by students played throughout the school, spreading holiday cheer to all.

The radio shows were the product of NFA’s Christmas Broadcast Contest headed by teachers Shannon Craige, media studies and librarian, and Mike Mannix, English language arts.

Mannix said he and Craige started brainstorming ideas last winter. The two wanted to do something to combat the isolating feeling of winter, when going outside becomes a chore and activities aren’t as prevalent as they are in the fall or spring.

They initially wanted to play Christmas music as students entered the school and their homerooms, but Mannix and Craige wanted it to be more than just songs or a teacher-led show – there needed to be a twist, and students needed to be at the helm.

After getting input from students this year, Mannix and Craige decided on creating radio broadcasts, which – from start to finish – would be entirely done by students.

“We wanted to do something where the students were actually having to be creative, and not just with the songs they were choosing, but also writing the script,” Mannix said. “We wanted it to be exciting.”

Mannix and Craige turned the broadcasts into a contest for seventh- and eighth graders and set guidelines for the script. Each script had to be 15 minutes in length and contain seven minutes worth of Christmas music (but no more than ten) and five minutes of student dialogue. The broadcasts would be judged for clarity, entertainment, humor, originality, delivery and appropriateness.

Two groups of four eighth-grade boys entered the contest. With the help of Mannix and Craige, the students drafted their scripts, then recorded the shows through Garageband, utilizing an array of broadcast features, such as call-ins and advertisements. The recording sessions, which attempted a perfect balance between music and commentary, took about an hour, and the students, Mannix said, had “a lot of fun.”

“There was a lot enthusiasm and a lot of laughing,” he said.

Mannix said the entire writing and recording process was as enjoyable as it was educational. From his perspective as a writing teacher, he was able to see how students dealt with everything that goes into writing a script: structure, transitioning from dialogue to a song and vice versa, blending humor and sincerity, and audience.

“There were lot of the things involved that you teach in English class,” Mannix said. “Focus, organization, speaking, listening, tone, volume, being concise. All of those things were happening and the need for them was very clear, without even talking about them with students. They just understood going in.”

The formatting of the broadcasts, akin to a podcast, exposed students to an underrepresented form of storytelling, Mannix said. As a form of storytelling, it requires exercising the whole gamut of English skills, at the same time giving students an opportunity to apply a variety of skills while trying something different outside of the classroom. By diversifying the modes in which they learn, he noted, the education process becomes novel and therefore more interactive and impactful.

Mannix said he hoped that next year more students will participate in the Christmas broadcasts now that they’ve seen what they encompass. He hopes the broadcasts continue long into the future and become a tradition at NFA, where students and teachers come together and lend their voices to the joys of the holiday and put Christmas in the air, one word at a time.

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