“I knew I was interested in journalism in the 9th grade. I was taking a class in high school, and I loved it,” said Ryanne Meschkat, a video and TV production teacher at Canyon High School, located in Santa Clarita. Meschkat is one of many local teachers who have participated in PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, a youth journalism program from the national news broadcast, PBS NewsHour. Student Reporting Labs supports both teachers and students with lesson plans, hands-on projects, and various networking and mentorship opportunities from broadcasters.
Meschkat earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communication and journalism from the University of New Mexico, where she also played softball for the Lobos and was an ESPN the Magazine All-Academic team member. She earned her teaching credential in English at Cal State Northridge and her Career Technical Education credential in the Arts, Media and Entertainment Industry sector. Before starting at Canyon High six years ago, Meschkat worked in sports production as an associate producer.
“I grew up playing sports, I played sports in college and loved broadcast journalism, but there were several reasons for leaving that career,” Meschkat explained. “First, the hours are long and odd, and in my mid-20s, after I got married and started talking about having a family, I knew it would be hard to sustain for the rest of my career.” She continued, “Second, the pay is surprisingly not that great. I discovered I could make more as a teacher and the third, cynical reason is that it’s a very hard industry as a woman.”
Meschkat explained that she’d be in a truck for live sports, often the only woman in the car and was told to have the mindset that this is a “guy’s world.”
Meschkat said, “You had to be okay with how guys joke, and this was pre the #MeToo movement, and I just thought, ‘I don’t have tough enough skin for this, and I don’t want to deal with this for rest of my career.’”
If I can inspire one student to... [find] a character they identify with, inspire them to be storytellers, or become informed citizens, then I’ve touched their lives, for the rest of their lives.
In teaching, Meschkat has found a fulfillment not found in her previous career.
“If I can inspire one student to do something interesting in their lives, whether it’s finding a character they identify with, inspire them to be storytellers, or become informed citizens, then I’ve touched their lives, for the rest of their lives,” she said.
After hearing about the PBS NewsHour workshops from a fellow journalism teacher, Meschkat attended a teacher workshop herself in the summer of 2018. She instantly fell in love with the entire concept and found it easy to sell to her students. Her advanced students stream live to their school every day, but this was a new opportunity to have their work seen by millions, and they leapt at the chance.
“In January of 2020, we took advanced students to the PBS [SoCal] building in Burbank, where they discussed how to find meaningful stories,” she said. “They pitched story ideas, and professionals gave them feedback. It was so meaningful, such an opportunity.”
Of course, continuing with the program and her day-to-day instruction was not without its challenges during the COVD-19 pandemic.
“It’s a very weird time with so many new challenges.” Meschkat explained, “We went from, in April 2020, ‘Oh you teachers are all heroes!’ to, fast forward in February 2021, ‘How dare you still be closed?!’ It was a whiplash moment for teachers.”
Not being able to physically touch and work with the high-tech cameras and equipment in the classroom has been a detriment to the learning experience for some of her beginner students. Meschkat will likely be playing catch up with students entering her advanced courses with limited hands-on experience.
“They didn’t get a chance to touch a DSLR camera. They don’t know what Adobe Premier Pro is. Some of their programs are good in a pinch, but they’re not industry standard and won’t work in the advanced class,” she said. “Getting students caught up while producing a daily show and teaching every day is going to be a challenge.”
However, like so many in her field, Meschkat came up with creative and innovative ways to continue her classes while in quarantine. With the utilization of Zoom, they were no longer relegated to local interviews. Her students were able to cover national topics, including a story on Rachel Balkovec, a hitting coach for the New York Yankees and the first woman to be hired as a full-time hitting coach for a Major League Baseball team.
“She was a friend of mine I played softball with in college,” Meschkat said, “My students interviewed and recorded video of her, without ever physically meeting in person, which was a huge win for us. Students are no longer limited to our small community and can be introduced to characters outside of this valley.”
Classes have already resumed at Canyon High School with mask mandates and vaccine protocols firmly in place. Her students are excited to return, and she looks forward to seeing her, “babies” as she calls her students.
Meschkat adds, “That being said, there’s going to be problems, but seeing and reacting to each other in person outweighs the other things.”