At 11 years old, Nick Heiland, Sierra Crandall and Dallen Steen-Larsen are bona fide campus celebrities.

For the past year, the trio has helped anchor and report for "The Bobcat Brief," Dorothea Lange Elementary School's weekly newscast, with help from teachers Katie McDonald and Alyssa McChristian. Each week, the crew tackles some of the school's biggest stories and presents them to students on a television show that is aired in classrooms Monday mornings.

"When I was in high school, the teacher would read a weekly bulletin during second period," recalled Michael Flushman, the Nipomo school's principal. "The biggest idea was to engage students in gathering and sharing information with the school and their classmates. Since they're more excited about listening to each other, we thought to share our message with and through the students."

Flushman started "The Bobcat Brief" last year but passed it on to McDonald and McChristian at the start of this school year. The crew of six spend the week reporting from the field during recess or class, with the goal of filming upcoming week's show after school on Thursday.

"In class, you have to be their teacher and they have to be the student," McDonald explained. "You have certain things you need to get done each day. In (the studio), it's just playtime. You get to see their full personalities. It's just a special time to be able to see that part of them."

While Sierra said she feels most comfortable behind the camera and out in the field, last week she was brought on to anchor a special report on the Northern California wildfires. 

"I kind of get shy whenever I get in front of the camera," she said. "I take deep breaths and if I don't get one word, I'll pause for a second, and reread it."

While Nick and Dallen enjoy anchoring "The Bobcat Brief," getting through a take has proved to be a bit challenging at times. Dallen, who aspires to be an actor or cartoonist, said that their sense of humor (and jokes provided by McChristian and McDonald) often get the best of them.

"Sometimes it's hard not to laugh when you're filming," Dallen said. "I try to hold it in, but sometimes I can't."

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When laughter isn't interrupting a take, the two have to calm their nerves and concentrate to deliver their lines.

"I definitely get nervous sometimes," Nick said. "The first few times I was super-nervous to do it, but I've gotten a bit more confident after a year of anchoring. Now, I just try to finish my lines and talk slowly."

Sierra, Nick and Dallen said their work on "The Bobcat Brief" has transformed them into campus superstars. Dallen called his celebrity status "overrated" and said at times, it can be a bit "annoying."

"Kids walk up to me and recognize me while others just say, 'Oh hey, it's the kid from the 'Bobcat Brief,'" he said. "Sometimes it's a bit annoying when people come up to me and point."

Sierra, who often tutors kindergarten students who recognize her from the newscasts, said she doesn't mind the extra attention.

"They always say, 'Hey, I saw you on the TV,'" she said. "A lot of people come up to me and say I did a good job or that they really understood what I was talking about."

Sierra hopes to use her role as a reporter to inspire others to be a model student.

"Being a reporter teaches you how to be a leader and how to be inspiring to others who want to follow your lead."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.