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Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Surrey school tackles teen language and student stress

The school grounds were covered in thick snow and little activity could happen outside, although the school authorities allowed snowball throwing, under clear rules and at particular times.

In contrast to the chilly temperatures outside, Rodborough Technology College, just a few miles from Godalming in Surrey, gave a warm welcome to the group of three BBC News School Report staff who came to visit for a day. The objective was to get the students thinking about news in their area and how they might like to cover it.

Rodborough School students in their editorial meeting
Top of students' stress list: Homework, exams and pressure at home

Fourteen pupils had been given time off the normal school rota to take part in this day of journalism. After a few words of introduction, it was time to roll up their sleeves and get their brains thinking about what news stories interested them in their local area.

Time pressure

The students were given various deadlines, including a final deadline of 1430 GMT to gather all their material and structure their TV and radio pieces.

First job was to brainstorm ideas. What was happening in the local area? What interested them? And, most importantly, what could be turned into a news story?

The students, all 13 to 14-years-old, from Year 9, came up with a range of ideas including the impact of Tesco moving into the area; plans for a major housing development on a local aerodrome (which happens to be the test track for the Stig and the BBC's Top Gear team) and the removal of bike jumps by the local authority for health and safety reasons. Ultimately we had to focus on two stories we could do that day, by the 1430 deadline.

Rodborough School students record their radio news story
Students use an improvised screen prompt to get their message across

Through a process of elimination, the story ideas which emerged were teen language and teen stress. The group was split into two, one tackling the language story for radio, the other working towards making a TV piece on the different sources of stress for young people.

Once again, a deadline - of half an hour - was imposed, to come up with a storyboard for the TV group, and a structure and treatment for the radio group. Debate broke out over what teenage words to include in the radio report and, rather pertinently, what they actually meant.

Then it was time to get to grips with the equipment and to start recording material.

The students were brilliant. We are so proud of them.
Natalie Hawker, teacher

The TV team explored what made them particularly stressed and who might be able to offer them solutions. Homework, exams and pressure at home, particularly from rowing parents or broken families, were top of the stress list.

The students carried out interviews, on camera, with the school's Child Protection Officer, a couple of teachers, a Year 11 peer supporter and they "vox popped" their student colleagues.

The radio team chose two members to be the reporters. They recorded themselves discussing when and why they use teenage language. They read out a list of words to one of the teachers to see if they understood. They didn't.

Staff, students and BBC journalists talked about the use of sound and ways to bring the piece alive before recording the school bell, the hubbub of children, both in the playground and in the school canteen, footsteps and knocking on a door. Students also filmed a scene involving flicking through a dictionary then ripping it up (no dictionaries were harmed in the making of this report).

Time was fast running out and some of the TV team had to sacrifice a part of their lunch break to get their work done - but did so happily. They recorded their presenters' links between shots as they went along.

Once the radio team had collected the various elements of their story, it was time to finalise the structure and write any script necessary. With about ten seconds to spare before the deadline, everything was ready.

Keep reporting

But you can't keep good journalists down. Even as the BBC team left, with the component parts of the two news stories (to be mixed back at TV Centre, in London), the phrase "panning shots" could be overheard as students discusses which other stories they would pursue for School Report News Day in March.

One message the students (and teachers) had certainly taken on board was that the sooner they start, the better.

Natalie Hawker, the lead teacher of Rodborough's School Report Project, said: "The students were brilliant and got so much out of it - we are so proud of them."


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