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Petaluma students continue news broadcasts from home

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Even without studio lighting, teleprompters and audio equipment, Kenilworth Junior High School students are still filing weekly news segments.

But, like PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff and other national news anchors, the Petaluma students’ dispatches are now backdropped by the interiors of their homes.

Yet for veteran teacher Laura Bradley, the news production class is less about the finished product, and more about providing a critical outlet for students to tell their stories and express themselves using digital tools.

“I think it’s one of the most interesting things we’re doing with distance learning, seeing how these kids are making their own videos at home and even anchoring themselves, it can be very creative,” Bradley said.

Throughout her nearly 19 years at Kenilworth Junior High, Bradley has continuously employed technology and digital tools in her classrooms, becoming a “go-to” source of information and guidance for administrators and the district at-large. It has also informed her work with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) as a Digital Innovator, where she guides hundreds of educators from across the country on digital education tools.

“One of my bugaboos about digital learning is that it’s often not creating,” Bradley said. “Students should be creating, publishing, and putting themselves in the seat of creation rather than just regurgitating information, and that’s what I try to give them.”

Bradley first began her career as an English teacher in 1988 at Sonoma’s Altimira Middle School, moving to Petaluma’s Kenilworth Junior High in 2001 instructing the same subject.

The same year she earned her master’s degree in educational technology from Sonoma State University, she started the school’s Design Lab class to teach kids to use a variety of digital applications to design, create and innovate. For the past five years, she has led the broadcast journalism course.

“She has always been interested in technology and been at the forefront of implanting those tools in the classroom,” said Kenilworth’s Assistant Vice Principal William Ortlinghaus, who has worked alongside Bradley for nearly two decades. “She has helped integrate new technologies and curate the best digital resources, which has been especially helpful during this pandemic and shelter-in-place.”

Her digital acumen also caught the eye of PBS, recently naming her a Digital Innovator All-Star. She and three other innovators are contributing to virtual training sessions for the outlet’s “American Portrait” program, a national story-telling project that collects photos, videos and words from ordinary Americans.

As the coronavirus pandemic grips the country, the initiative has become an assemblage of individual reflections and tales amid the crisis.

In addition to using the series as a way of introducing educators across the country to virtual teaching methods, Bradley is also using the series with her own students, as a way of further supporting student storytelling and self-expression.

“Literature and storytelling is a big part of what I’ve always taught, so these tiny stories are a great way to teach elements of storytelling in pieces,” Bradley said. “I think it’s really valuable for kids to be exposed to different stories outside their classroom as well, it opens their eyes.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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