The Franklin County School Board spent the past 15 months debating how to cope with the COVID-19 crisis — whether to keep classes virtual or hold them in person, and for how many days.
During April’s regular meeting, a school board member spoke up who had not previously joined the debate over reopening. “We actually have a student concern that was brought to our attention that we would like to discuss with you all,” said 17-year-old Abby Anderson.
Anderson — who on Thursday will graduate from Franklin County High School along with about 470 other seniors — may have been new to that discussion, but she’s quite familiar to the school’s students and staff as an anchor for the morning announcements.
She’s also logged significant hours behind television cameras, directing coverage of Franklin County High School football games, with the footage aired Saturdays on WFXR’s sister station, WWCW.
In fact, back in March, Anderson’s high school broadcast news team became Virginia state champions in the SkillsUSA Broadcast News Production competition.
“She’s on the state winning broadcast news team and they’re competing in nationals in two weeks,” said Ken Kilinski, the TV production instructor for Franklin County schools. “She anchored the team and they won the state competition.”
SkillsUSA is a nationwide organization that Anderson described as “a program built around funding for career and technical education classes.” Anderson is the student president of the SkillsUSA Virginia association.
The daughter of Jesse Anderson, the wrestling coach at Roanoke’s Patrick Henry High School, and Kelly Anderson, chief financial officer at Surrey Precision Tools in Bassett, Abby Anderson discovered her knack for broadcasting in her junior year, when she starting taking Kilinski’s classes.
“I enjoy the creativity it allows me to express,” she said.
“I’ve had some great students come through my program, but Abby is the most naturally talented one who has come through,” Kilinski said. “She’s not really afraid of anything, as far as getting on TV or doing interviews. She just has that personality that shines through.”
Once a month, Anderson produced — in the television producer sense — a lip-sync video that got shared during morning announcements. “We went around the school and got teachers and students alike to lip sync to popular music,” she said. “It was always a well loved thing around campus. I really enjoyed putting that together.”
“They went all over campus and the entire campus was involved, everyone from teachers to administrators to special needs kids to nurses, and the principals,” Kilinski said. Anderson’s group “did a great job, very meticulous with their editing and everything,” and were “one of the first [teams of] intro TV production students whose stuff was featured on our morning show.”
Anderson plans to attend James Madison University in the fall and hopes to enroll in the school’s media art and design program.
Her family, including 13-year-old sister Lily and 6-year-old brother Colton, lives in a house in Ferrum that once belonged to her paternal grandmother. Kilinski noted that Abby’s father has a winning record as a Patrick Henry coach and added that “Abby is going to continue that, I’m sure,” in the field she pursues.
As for the April school board meeting, Amderson and her fellow student board member, Ryan Mollin, presented a petition signed by about 200 seniors stating that they would have preferred to stay on the hybrid schedule, which has students attending class in-person two days a week, instead of returning to class five days a week. The petition also expressed concerns that COVID-19 precautions in place in the school weren’t sufficient.
Though the board had already voted to return to a five-day schedule in March, Anderson said of the elected school board members that “to the best of their abilities, they respected what we had to say, and they tried to offer input as to how we could change and make recommendations as to what the students would be happy with. They were very open to hearing the ideas that we had.”
Each year the Franklin County school system selects two seniors to be student members of the board, and though they don’t vote, they do occasionally participate in discussions.
“I’ve been very grateful for my position on the school board, especially during a year as unique as this one, because I’ve been able to witness history being made,” Anderson said.