Shaler Area students take to the airwaves

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Shaler residents listening to Carnegie Mellon University's public radio station WRCT (88.3) at 10:35 a.m. Saturday will hear some familiar voices — a group of Shaler Area High School seniors reading their poems and stories live as part of the "Saturday Light Brigade."

It's the second time for Shaler students to be featured on the program.

Broadcast from the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, the program has been featuring ideas, stories and feelings of children, youth and families since 1978. Larry Berger, "Light Brigade" executive director, hosts the program that airs for six hours each Saturday. The broadcast forum enables students to share their work in a national venue with the privacy afforded by radio’s audio format.

The seniors will be reading poems and stories they wrote as part of language arts teacher Ben Shannon’s creative writing classes.

During the hour-long program, the creative writing students will talk about their own creative processes and read one or two pieces. They've been busy writing and rewriting stories and poems they created this semester and last.

Christine Chirdon, 18, said she is still trying to choose what to read. “We write a lot in there,” she said of her creative writing class. “I love it," she said. "Mr. Shannon is a really fantastic teacher and the students are friendly and great to work with.”

The class ends each Friday with students volunteering to reading out loud.

Christine said she may read a poem she wrote when she was inspired by seeing a homeless man in the recent bone-chilling cold, but she also is considering one of her short stories.

“It’s really exciting,” Christine said, “but I’m surprisingly not nervous about it,” she said about reading on the air. “If they don’t like it, they won’t remember it.”

Classmate Zach Weaver, 18, said he chose Mr. Shannon’s class because, “I like writing.” He said this is the first year he’s tried to sit down and write something every day. And he has a stockpile of short stories that are mostly realistic fiction.

“I have a couple of things to choose from. I read them for Mr. Shannon’s class already, but this is a cool opportunity,” Zach said.

Mr. Shannon has taught at Shaler since 2002, beginning with teaching drama and theater. Now he teaches British literature and creative writing 1 and 2 at the high school. Creative writing 1 is open to all students in grades nine through 12, while the second class is for students who earn at least a B in the first one.

Mr. Shannon said he became aware of the public radio station while taking his children to the Children’s Museum. His family enjoyed listening to the family-oriented programming aired live from its studio in the basement of the museum’s neighboring building on Children’s Way on the North Side. He said he began to see the program as an outlet for his students and their work, so he gave the program directors a call.

“It was a success,” Mr. Shannon said of last year's broadcast, giving his students their first experience reading their creative writing live on the radio.

“Seeing the kids have the opportunity to be heard was great. The energy of the kids after they read their work was priceless. They were just smiling from ear to ear like little kids. High school students are often seen like adults,” he said, “but they still can be childlike and have a young approach to the world.”

The subject matter varied from serious, such as a story from a student who described the heartbreak he experienced when his friend and fellow basketball player struggled with drugs, to more upbeat stories and poems. “I let them decide what to read and let them be their own voice, as long as it’s family friendly,” Mr. Shannon said.

Rita Michel, freelance writer:

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