Company wants to air news, ads in classrooms

By Catherine Mitchell

A MONTREAL company wants to broadcast daily 12.5-minute newscasts into the city's classrooms for free.

But there's a catch.

Athena Educational Partners Inc.'s Youth News Network show would be brought to local students by corporate sponsors - through 2 1/2 minutes of daily advertising. No thank you, says Celine Papillon, who has two children attending Grant Park High School, and has long been active promoting standards in education.

``I don't see that my child is going to benefit from a corporate agency giving him little blurbs of news,'' said Papillon, who is particularly concerned about allowing advertisers into the classroom. Kids are constantly bombarded with media messages, advertising and watch enough television outside of school, she noted. ``It's just giving this corporation a chance to reach my child in another way.''

But Winnipeg School Division trustee Mario Santos said he has no problem with corporate sponsorship, as long as education and programming does not become dependent upon it. He said he is willing to consider all offers.

``It's our obligation as an educational system to always be listening to something that might improve education,'' said Santos, who noted he has not perused the information package and video sent by Athena.

And who is Athena? That question has raised alarms among teachers'> groups. ``Who's putting this content together?'' asked Ian MacIntyre,> president of the Manitoba Teachers Society.

``It's 10 minutes of `news' from someplace in the world.'' MacIntyre echoed concerns of Jan Eastman, spokeswoman for the Canadian Teachers' Federation, who said she is uneasy about the fact that little is known of Athena.

Eastman said a news release from Athena last month described itself as a new Canadian-owned and operated company based in Montreal. She said she has questions about who is helping it to offer such expensive equipment - Athena has also offered multi-media computer labs to schools that sign up.

MacIntyre noted that any video material teachers bring into the class must be previewed to ensure it is age appropriate. As well, teachers want to know who is delivering the message.

MTS supports Cable in the Classroom - delivered to schools free by a consortium of cable companies - which provides taped programs by stations like The Learning Channel for classroom use. The only advertising carried with the programs is the obvious plug for the channel itself, he said.

Both MacIntyre and Eastman said their groups oppose allowing advertisers into the schools.

This is the second time Montreal-based YNN has been pitched to Winnipeg school boards. In the early 1990s, the Youth News Network was floated but the idea was turned down.

Santos said the committee will be called sometime after all the material from Athena is ready for review. Santos said anyone who has an opinion can appear before the committee.