Channel One comes to Eagle Valley Middle School

Perched on lime green chairs, two twenty-something presenters delivered a fast-paced news segment Thursday to about 8 million students nationwide

The glossy show, which is more akin to MTV than CNN, is a 12- minute, daily news program that Eagle Valley Middle School recently started airing.

Thursday's topics ranged from Internet use to Elizabeth Dole's withdrawal from presidential politics.

The school's 32 televisions, cable connections and satellite dish, were paid for and installed by Channel One Network, the company that produces the show.

"We're encouraged to develop public and private partnerships. Technology is expensive, these partnerships are the only way we can keep up. And this is the perfect way to do it," said Eagle Valley Middle School Principal Joanie Burris.

The show has received more than 150 international and national program awards. The controversy is the two minutes of commercials that air between the news.

Burris said she received six calls from concerned parents about Channel One and one child does not participate in the program. Carson City School Board members let Burris decide whether to air the show, following a spirited discussion about the program's commercial content at a recent board meeting.

Supporters of the channel describe the commercials as a way of providing quality current affairs and news in the classroom. Many of the stories dig beneath the surface and in some cases run over two or three days.

In the case of Dole's withdrawal from the Republican nomination for president, the discussion segued into a brief history of the suffrage movement and concluded with a list of women serving in the U.S. Senate.

The story was preceded by more than one minute of Pepsi, Clearasil and Internet commercials and an anti-drug public service announcement by the Dixie Chicks. The public service announcements account for 25 percent of commercials.

It is naive to think that schools are free of commercials, said Paul Folkemer, Channel One's executive vice-president for education.

"I don't know a school that doesn't have commercials. Walk down a hall and you'll recognize commercials. We have a responsibility to teach kids to manage commercials."

The show generates quality, thought provoking news geared to students and tailored to curriculum.

"When you teach real-world situations, that's when kids become involved," he said.

Critics say the program provides a captive audience of millions of children under the guise of a news program.

"It's taking advantage of a captive audience of children, which we feel is extremely inappropriate in public schools," said Andrew Hagelshaw, senior program director with the Center for Commercial Free Public Education, a San Francisco-based group.

The real motive for Channel One is to draw big advertisers. The evidence of that is that after nine years of business, the group hired its first education director last year, Hagelshaw said.

"The point of the program is to charge advertisers for every 30-second (advertising) slot," he said.

When combined the program consumes six days of time, and one of those days would be devoted to advertising.

"I think schools can find better ways to spend taxpayer money," he said.

Eagle Valley Middle School airs the program in its home room period. Burris said that various programs have been tried with little success to make this a useful period.

Science teacher Eric Anderson said that initially he was skeptical about Channel One.

"I thought, oh just another thing to try," he said. "It's glitzy, fast paced and hip."

But Anderson enjoys the program. He said it gives him a chance to discuss with his students a variety of current affairs that would otherwise never crop up.

A news piece on Wednesday's show focused on the national debt and the concept of a trillion.

"It generated a lively debate, especially the idea of each person owing about $20,000," he said.

The story jumped from images of teens using credit cards, congressional hearings on debt and defined a saving bond.

Soda, skin products and the new movie "Bats" were advertised in the first commercial break.

The attention-grabbing commercial of bats swooping and screaming people ducking for cover got a thumbs down from the students, Anderson said.

"It was a stupid ad on bats, because they're harmless," he said.

Teachers can log onto the Channel One web page, which gives them suggestions on incorporating the day's news into the curriculum.

The link between news and the curriculum is what converted Eagle Valley Middle School Counselor Warren Wish.

"I was unsure about the quality of the commercials and how intrusive it might be. But I'm very pleased. I see the educational value," he said. "Linking critical issues, people and events has always been a challenge in education and I believe that Channel One allows us to make that connection."

For most middle school students, Channel One will be their first regular contact with the media. It's unusual if students watch television news and rare if they pick up a newspaper, Wish said.

Student Carly Southern recalled that Thursday's program included news of Dole dropping out of the race.

"I didn't know that she had dropped out. But I didn't know a woman was running either," she said

Kelli Cahill recalled a show on Pakistan's conflict over Kashmir. She recalled from Thursday's show that Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson is one of the few women to serve in the U.S. Senate.

When students can discuss Kashmir in the hallway, that's progress, Wish said.

Southern could also recalled several of the commercials.

"They're the same commercials as regular TV. Some catch my eye and others don't," she said.

Amber Ballam said she had an urge for a Coke after watching the soda commercial.

Excluded from Channel One commercials are abortion clinics, feminine hygiene products, alcoholic beverages, contraceptives, firearms, gambling, tobacco and prescription drugs.

Carson City School District Superintendent Jim Parry said he wasn't totally comfortable with advertisements being aired in classrooms, but the quality of the news far outweigh the two minutes of commercials.

"I find the programming to be of such good quality that we'll put up with the commercialism," Parry said.

The decision to air the show was left to Burris, Parry said.

"The schools deserve the right to make their own decisions, but they need to bring the parents into the fold," he said.

The State Board of Education is one of several opponents of Channel One.

In 1990, then Superintendent Eugene Paslov urged the board to oppose the program.

"In large part the negative aspects of Channel One far outweigh the benefits that might occur to students and teachers," he wrote.

A subsequent resolution passed by the board read: "Therefore be it resolved that the Nevada State Board of Education encourage Nevada's local boards of trustees to prohibit commercial TVs Channel One in their schools."

Nine years later, Nevada State Education Association President Elaine Lancaster said she continued to oppose Channel One.

"I don't think it's good educational practice. I don't think education should be sold to the highest bidder."


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