PITTSBORO — A few months ago, dropping kids off at Pittsboro Elementary School meant approximately six to 10 minutes of sitting in the carpool line.
As of Jan. 10, it means listening six to 10 minutes of something a bit more exciting: 92.7 FM WPES In The Morning, a radio segment with students to highlight school news and happenings.
“I get texts from parents like, ‘Today’s show was great,’ and it’s fun to have that kind of engagement,” said Pittsboro Elementary Assistant Principal Zack Chutz. “Kids talk about it at school in the halls, and they want to be part of it — so it’s been received quite well.”
Chutz got the idea for it during drive-thru graduations at the beginning of the pandemic, when he noticed how short a student’s celebration was in comparison to the time they spent in the car line.
“I started thinking about having a connection point to people driving through,” he said.
He thought about drive-thru movies and socially distanced radio broadcasts, but in the end, landed on a morning radio show. Chutz worked with Pittsboro resident and friend Corbie Hill, who helped him get a handle on audio-software platform Audacity.
Now, the show plays every day.
The minutes-long, prerecorded segment plays on a loop repeat during the carpool dropoff time to anyone on campus tuning into 92.7 FM. Due to privacy concerns and copyright law, the show doesn’t currently have a public archive of past episodes, but Chutz has been brainstorming ways to share episodes with PES community members.
One of Chutz’s favorite episodes so far featured students sharing what makes them happy, followed by Pharell Williams’ song “Happy.”
Fisher, a kindergartener, said (with an audible smile), “Um, being at school and seeing my friends.”
Clara, a 3rd grader, enthusiastically answered, “Doing gymnastics.”
“It’s just sweet, you know, 5-year-olds talking about something that makes them happy,” Chutz said. “And you hear the chatter of the room that they were in when we record it. It’s just wholesome and comforting and really sweet.”
The show has received a lot of support since its launch, Chutz said, something he hopes PES can one day turn into a fundraising arm for the school through “WPES In the Morning” sponsors.
“I (love) this innovative idea! I arrived early to work just to sit in the parking lot to listen,” tweeted Amanda Moran, the district’s assistant superintendent of academic services and instructional support. “What makes me happy is seeing innovation and kids being highlighted in our schools. Folks, PES just elevated the morning car line. Whole new level!”
The long-term goal for the show, Chutz said, is for it to be “100% kid-led” — something that mostly happens nine out of 10 days already, he said.
Pittsboro Elementary also started an after-school club, Panda Productions Crew, to help with the show and learn skills like interviewing, recording and using basic audio editing features. For Black History Month, the crew interviewed Black leaders in Chatham, including CCS Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson and Charles Gardner, Chatham’s first Black chief deputy. (“Maybe 20 years from now, we’ll hear some kids who say their entry into podcasting was PES In the Morning,” Chutz said.)
Chutz wants to broadcast 180 unique episodes over the course of a school year. Though making the episodes sometimes adds more stress and time to an already overloaded schedule, Chutz said his efforts are worth it.
“This was a space for us to reach 70% of our people who are dropping their kids off in the car line that was before this totally absent of any connection,” he said. “And gosh, mornings are stressful. It’s so hard to get your kids up and dressed and fed and out the door to get them into the building on time.
“And so if we can alter that experience just a little bit for a sizable portion of our community, I think it changes the effect of the school day for everybody,” he continued. “It’s a little thing, but spread out over a lot of people, has a big impact.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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