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Live! From a high school near you

Wednesday, October 21, 2015  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

When Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta launched its most recent campaign to design and construct a STEM building on campus, school leaders asked teachers and others for wish lists for the new space. Joe Conway, a four-year faculty member in upper school film and broadcast production, wrote a lengthy and, according to him, almost laughable list for the journalism department. To his surprise and delight, everything he requested was delivered, including a production studio where students tape the weekly WHIS-TV broadcasts and quarterly feature shows, a voice-over studio, three editing suites, a host of new equipment, and three classrooms used by TV crew, newspaper staff, and yearbook staff.

“Our administration has come to believe, rightfully so, that this program can be a flagship for the school,” Conway said. Now in its 7th season, the broadcast show has a full production area, a green-screen studio with four cameras, and professional lights and sound equipment. Students in the broadcast class take turns as reporters, anchors, and camera operators. Two students serve as executive producers and one student oversees the technical setup, advised by Conway and fellow upper school film and broadcast faculty member James Jackson.

Each broadcast is recorded in the studio and then edited as quickly as possible to be posted on a Vimeo site and also linked on the school web site and social media. In the new STEM building, passersby can watch the taping on a flat-screen TV outside the studio. In the near future, Jackson wants the students to conduct at least one live show each semester.

In addition to providing news and entertainment for the school community, the broadcast program gives students practical and professional skills, leadership opportunities, and more. “Being a part of this program really helps kids who are shy to build confidence,” said Haven Boaz, senior executive producer for WHIS. The program also fills a lot of the students’ spare time – much work is required outside of class to conduct interviews and edit their stories. In her role, Boaz helps to decide which ideas will become stories, keeps the team organized, and makes sure deadlines are met.

Amanda Gibson, a junior, executive producer, and three-year member of the broadcast team, hopes to pursue journalism as a career. She likes that the program is primarily student-led. “It’s helping us reach our potential,” she said. She and Boaz make sure that all the students complete an equal number of stories throughout the year.

“The program has always been strong but now we’re giving kids the tools for the next steps,” Jackson said.

At King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, GA, High School Principal Dr. Hunter Chadwick is leading a new podcast program called NKR Radio. After a few requests from students to develop some kind of broadcast program, Chadwick announced the project and invited any interested students to participate. Three students showed up to the first meeting. Now, they meet weekly for about 20 minutes to plan their show, including determining which guests to invite. 

Launched as a 30-minute weekly talk radio show, the first podcast was downloaded 342 times – and the high school has only 260 students. They have numerous ideas for future shows, potential guests, and even sponsors, operating under one cardinal rule: Be funny. The students are looking to recruit interesting and entertaining guests, and have even created an amusing French character voiced in a heavy accent by one of the students.

While the first two shows were taped and edited in a conference room on campus before release via Spreaker, the students plan to broadcast future shows live and include some live reporting on location, such as from a school event. Chadwick acquired the mobile podcast equipment for the show for less than $500 – a low investment for a program that gives students an opportunity to participate in school life and hone skills such as interviewing and interacting with adults and peers. “The kids have fearlessly jumped in,” Chadwick said.

While broadcast efforts at schools often center around sports, many schools have expanded their reach to include other video-worthy events. Last school year at The First Academy in Orlando, FL, the broadcast program produced more than 60 events, including games, sports banquets, chapel services, graduation, and some academic events. Doug Cohen, the athletics program coordinator, sponsors the Royals TV program, which broadcasts athletics through the High School Sports Network online.

When the program started four years ago, only faculty and staff filmed football games and now Cohen works with about four students per event. The broadcasts are well-received by parents, grandparents, and even opponents. “Most of the teams we play don’t have this system so we’ll tag them in social media with the link,” Cohen said. The other schools can then share the broadcasts with their communities.

For events that are filmed but not broadcast live, Cohen edits and uploads the videos but hopes to pass that responsibility to students. “We’re moving toward being more of a student-run production,” he said. “It’s great to mentor them and build those relationships with students.”

While the costs for broadcast programs can vary greatly, schools recognize them as worthwhile investments that may serve as stepping stones for a student to explore a passion and a potential future career.

Giving students a professional space to work and learn was a key factor in the construction of the media technology wing at Holy Innocents', according to Upper School Principal Chris Durst. "It provides an opportunity for kids to explore a different type of art form and create some expertise around it," he said. "Media is such a pervasive part of our society today, and that's not going away. These programs really round out a student's experience and they can learn how professional media work is done."  

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