Welcome to JFK in the morning: Middle school launches news station for morning broadcasts

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 04-03-2023 2:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Xavier Greenberg and Christian Patenaude sit at a desk in front of a green screen in the technology room of JFK Middle School, reading morning announcements off sheets of paper to a camera placed in front of them.

On a recent Tuesday, the 14-year-olds inform their classmates about the morning’s news, ranging from the lunch of the day (chicken banh mi with vegetable soup) to the weather (cloudy with a high of 50 degrees), to the “Trivia Tuesday” fact of the week.

“Today’s Trivia Tuesday fun fact is about collective nouns,” says Patenaude. “These are how we refer to a group of certain objects, like a pride of lions or a pod of whales.”

“Collective nouns get much more unusual,” adds Greenberg. “You might spot a murder of crows, a conspiracy of ravens, a flamboyance of flamingos, a coalition of cheetahs, a prickle of porcupines or a shiver of sharks.”

Behind the camera is John Crescitelli, the school’s technology integrationist, who coaches the students beforehand on how to present themselves to the camera before they go live. The broadcast’s are shown in classrooms across the school and livestreamed on YouTube.

“I’ve had three principals who have wanted to do something like this,” said Crescitelli, who has served the position for the past 12 years. “I just didn’t have all the equipment until this year.”

The school’s news station for reading morning announcements launched in December, thanks to a grant from the Northampton Education Foundation. But it’s far from the school’s only form of high-tech production.

Spread across Crescitelli’s technology room are small drones controlled by tablets, virtual reality headsets, laser cutters and a 3-D printer, assembled with the help of eighth grade students. Most of the funding for the technology has come from about $40,000 of NEF grants, according to Crescitelli.

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“My goal for the last 12 years has been to make this the best middle school technology lab in western Mass,” he said. “And I think I’ve done it.”

The VR headsets, which function by viewing a smartphone through specially designed goggles, allow students immersive experiences in 360-degree environments. Students who put them on can instantly find themselves amid the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, but the headsets can also be used in discussing more serious topics, such as the Holocaust.

“We’re careful about how we push it out and authentically integrate it in the classroom,” Crescitelli said of the Holocaust-related VR experience, which takes students to current memorials at the site of former concentration camps. “We have alternate plans for kids who choose to opt out. It’s all a question of, how do you structure it?”

Crescitelli helps teachers integrate the technology into their classrooms, assisting them in operating the technology and ensuring students have spare Google Chromebook laptops for upcoming MCAS exams. Most recently, he’s helping teachers integrate smartboards, chalkboard-size touchscreen monitors used for visual presentations, into the classroom.

But the school’s use of such new technology faces a risk of ending soon.

Recent cuts to the school budget for the upcoming fiscal year have meant the technology integrationist position at JFK will be eliminated, to be replaced with a part-time math interventionist position. With the elimination of the position, Crescitelli, who will remain employed at the school in a different capacity, says he fears he won’t be able to provide the support needed to classrooms, and that many of the school’s tech devices may be shelved.

“Teachers just won’t get any tech support, they won’t have any training, they’ll have nothing,” Crescitelli said. “All of the video, all of the drones and all the VR is just going to be mothballed.”

Jannell Pearson-Campbell, the superintendent of the Northampton Public Schools, said that the district is committed to modernizing education in other ways, with improvements made through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, given to school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our positions are important and a number of the classes are incorporating 21st [century] learning,” Pearson-Campbell said in a statement to the Gazette. “There is a need to support math intervention where we have one more year on ESSER funds. Also we are working with a data team to ensure all of our students and teachers are using data to support instruction in the classroom.”

For now, the devices are still in use at JFK, including the news station for reading morning announcements. At the end of last Tuesday’s broadcast, Greenberg signs off for the day, and is allowed to fill in his own adjectives for describing the upcoming first period class and the school day in general.

“Have an astounding first period class, and an uplifting day,” he says.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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