A handful of students at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences are out to find answers to their questions about the teachers and paraprofessionals who work in their school.
Each week, students draft questions and sit down with a staff member to conduct an interview, which is filmed and edited by another student. The video interviews are shared through TSAS' weekly "NewsNote" and on the school's YouTube page each Friday afternoon under the heading "Thunderbird Interviews."
The interviews largely focus on the staff member's position at the school, and facts that students might be interested to know about them, such as talents or hobbies.
The Daily News visited TSAS on Thursday morning to talk with five students who have been conducting the weekly interviews, including fifth-grader Velvet Staples and sixth-graders Ike Pennino, Jaelin Noble and Haydn McMahon and Lonnie Clark. Absent was cameraman and editor Carter Voelz, also a sixth-grader.
Paraprofessional Cari McLean told the Daily News that the idea to have students interview staff members came from the school's Academic Policy Committee.
"The interview team started when the APC decided it would be great if we could do interviews of all the staff since, at the beginning of the year, we were (at) high levels of COVID and no one gets to come in and see who (is) teaching the kids," McLean told the Daily News.
Paraprofessional Evelyn Voorhees-Brown "took the reins at first," McLean said.
Student participant Haydn McMahon noted that he first learned about the opportunity through Voorhees-Brown.
"So how it all started was we had Miss Evelyn (Voorhees-Brown) come to us asking sixth-graders and fifth-graders if they wanted to have an interviewing program to interview all the teachers and paras, and multiple people came and wanted to," McMahon said. "And then in the next two days, everybody left and it was just me. And then I asked some of my friends ... so now we're up to, I think five or six people."
Ike Pennino said he was hesitant to join at first, but learned that he's able to skip regular classroom time to film the interviews.
"So I did it, I tried it, and it was really fun," Pennino shared.
Lonnie Clark said that he thought the interviews looked like fun, and he hadn't tried something like it before — "So why not?"
The students keep a list of staff members to interview and "we mark down people that we've done and ... we email (to) see if they're up for it and the time that they want it," McMahon explained.
McMahon's first interview was with TSAS' former "lunch lady."
"She said she just wanted to be a practice one, but it came out really good," he noted.
Clark said his first interview, which was with a TSAS paraprofessional, took "a couple of tries to even get it right, but I got it right."
Some of the questions that the group likes to ask include, "why do you work here at TSAS,"... "where was your first job" or "what's your position here at school?"
"And some of the questions are like, I have in some of the interviews — this is a new thing — (to) have quiz time where ... the person from the back behind the camera comes up and asks a totally random question," Pennino said. "Like one of them was 'what is the most-selling dish soap company?'"
The answer was Dawn, Pennino noted.
"Most of the time we just, like, brainstorm questions up," McMahon added. "And then if it's too not serious, we won't put it in. If it, like, has an equal balance, we'll put it in because it's just right."
McMahon said they often ask the question, "what would you sing at karaoke night," or, "what's your hidden talent?"
In response to the latter, the student learned that Principal Scott Huff " likes to put, like, motorcycles and trucks and cars together," according to McMahon.
"The question that really gets my attention sometimes is the hidden talents or hobbies," Velvet Staples said.
Some things can prove challenging when conducting a successful interview. Pennino brought up the topic of swivel chairs being a distraction, and his classmates agreed with him.
"One thing that's kind of hard for me is the swivel chairs," Jaelin Noble remarked. "And when I'm doing it, a lot of people (make) funny faces and I try not to laugh."
"People don't stop spinning," McMahon said about the chairs. "Then we have to retake, because it's just getting in the way."
"The hardest thing for me is, like, when you're on camera and it's filming and you have to be really serious and yeah, I can't do that," Pennino commented.
For Clark, "not messing up when I'm talking" is a focus, although he thinks he has made improvements since he first joined the group.
Speaking on behalf of classmate Carter Voelz (described by Pennino as "the best cameraman in the existence of all of the whole world"), McMahon said the editing process is time-consuming.
"Carter's our cameraman," he said. "And our editor. He edits the videos, too. He has lots of stuff that has to be done."
Making sure the videos get edited on time is another challenge, McMahon said, and the students haven't yet been able to make that process work via computer, so the videos are edited using a phone.
"I think its fun," Clark said about the student-led interviews. "It's something you can do if you're done (with classwork) ... and you have nothing to do. It's very fun."