Thanks to the dream of Principal Donette Ruffin -- and grants from state and federal government and donations from businesses and the community -- Community School 53 on Roehrer Avenue has its own in-school TV broadcasting system.
And on Feb. 2, kids were busy setting up cameras and microphones, transforming the school library into a TV station for the appearance of national anti-smoking spokesman Dr. Jeffrey Wigand.
If Wigand's name isn't familiar, maybe Russell Crowe's is. Crowe portrayed Wigand in the movie "The Insider." Wigand, a former tobacco company executive, cooperated with government agencies, particularly the Food and Drug Administration, investigating the tobacco industry.
Wigand's presentation at this inner-city school was due in part to a grant from the Erie-Niagara Tobacco Free Coalition. Because School 53 has a broadcasting system, other students could listen to Wigand from the comfort of their classrooms. He spoke for 45 minutes, patiently answering questions from the studio audience.
His presentation was informative but scary. Kids may have noticed tobacco billboards in their neighborhoods; Wigand revealed that cigarette companies target minority communities.
Some kids sat in the studio audience while others manned cameras, taping the program so it could be aired again at a later date. Student moderators, all eighth graders, were reporter Kenyata Anaya, producer Teresa Harris and Dominique Bulls, who interviewed Wigand on the air. (After the broadcast, he asked for a copy of the tape!)
The library is just one site kids can broadcast from in the school. Each classroom has a TV and VCR, and every morning, teachers tune in to Channel 5 to watch "TV 53," where kids work behind and in front of the camera. Teresa sometimes works at the anchor desk. "I enjoy it, and I think that it is a good learning experience," she said.
Second-grader Malcolm Williams said, "My teacher is happy when she sees me on TV." Fourth-grader Dalton Sharp said "It's a special opportunity for people like me to be on TV. I like to do the pledge and camera work."
The day of Wigand's visit, the on-air talent was fourth-graders singing "Lift every voice and sing" while music teacher Kim Boswell played the piano.
That's right, there's a piano in the library. The library is big enough to have a class singing in one section, while three cameras separately focus on an anchor desk, a weather station with IMAC computer for weather graphics and three sports reporters, who go by the name "RSG" sports, modeled after the ESPN sports desk. Morning news is a mix of music, local and national news. Sometimes kids interview guests like Common Council President James Pitts or School Superintendent Marion Canedo. Parents sometimes participate or come to watch.
Adult coordinators of the broadcasting setup are Cheryl Littlejohn, who said she invites donations of equipment "such as video mixers and IMAC DV computers", and Doug Ruffin, overnight DJ for WBLK.
Tanisha Cumberland, a seventh grader, took to heart Wigand's talk on the dangers of second-hand smoke, saying she knows many kids her age who smoke. Kenyata said she's tried to convince her mother to stop smoking and she feels getting rid of all cigarettes is the answer.
With a grant from the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, School 53 students will be creating anti-smoking commercials aimed at kids, to be aired on local cable. I know I'll be watching.
Lisa Lopez is a freshman at the Buffalo Academy of the Visual and Performing Arts.