Just before noon on Friday, Sentinel High junior Madison Thomas stood in front of a webcam at the Montana PBS studio at the University of Montana. She was about to connect via Skype with PBS “NewsHour” correspondent Ray Suarez and five other high school students from around the country to debate how best to prevent America’s next school shooting. Seconds before noon, Sentinel journalism teacher Jenn Keintz told Thomas, “Remember to smile. And remember this is just a practice.”
Last year, Sentinel became Montana’s sole representative for the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab, a PBS-sponsored program that aims to produce original reporting from high school students around the country. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, PBS asked participating students to report on what they thought should be done to make schools safer. On Jan. 17, "NewsHour" aired what the student reporters came up with. Thomas, who is also the assistant editor of the yearbook, was one of those students.
In her clip, Thomas describes a non-lethal system by which teachers or students could respond in the event of an emergency. She says each classroom could have a box, “like a fire extinguisher box,” that when opened sends a signal to the rest of the school and the police station. In the box would be a canister of bear-spray “or something just as strong.”
After her clip aired, PBS called Keintz and asked if Thomas would be willing to participate in a nationally televised debate with five other students.
At Friday's practice debate, Thomas was the only one who could hear Suarez’s questions through an earpiece, but her answers are audible. “We like guns in Montana. We’re big hunters,” she said into the monitor. “We wouldn’t want our guns taken away at all.”
The actual debate will be filmed on Monday Feb. 4 and aired during the Tuesday edition of “NewsHour.”