Hightower Academy

Founded in 1998, the Hightower High School Electronic Media Academy is a career academy designed to expose high school students to the world of film, television and new media.

We currently offer students a sequence of courses from the 9th through 12th grade; Media Literacy, Video Technology I, Media Video Technology (Broadcast Journalism), Media Technology I and finally, Media Technology II (Internship).

Beginning fall 2007, students within our academy can acquire up to 13 hours of dual college credit with our partner Houston Community College. Future academic goals are to provide graduating seniors the opportunity to acquire Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro certification.

As a program on the cutting edge, the opportunities are fantastic. A graduate of our program can have an internship, college credit and a certification in non-linear video editing. Hightower Media Academy graduates are and will be light years ahead of most college students and semi-professionals within the film and TV industry.
 

 

Our technology infrastructure boasts an SDI (Serial Digital Interface) studio with control room, complete with a Globecaster graphics system, Abekas 8150 digital switcher, Mackie 24 channel audio board, Sony DVCAM professional VTR’s and a BetaSP dubbing station. The control room can take up to 4 live calls, the internet call be viewed live through the switcher and the daily newscast is broadcasted live, everyday to a student population of over 2800. We pride ourselves on lighting. Our lighting gear consists of one large survival kit, complete with cookies, flags and silks. In addition, we have a large array of C-Stands and mombo-combos, sandbags, gelly rolls, apple boxes, stingers, pigeon plates, black wrap and a ton of other lighting gear including light meters. Students videotape using Sony DSR-PD170 & DSR-300 ENG cameras as well as a Sony HDV-Z1U high definition video camera. Our editing suites consists of 10 Final Cut Studio editing bays running on Intel based G5 towers. Seniors get the opportunity to use Avid Xpress Pro.

 

The Hightower Media Academy has won 14 national Telly Awards, including two recent awards from April, 2007, a bronze and silver Telly. This is the first year that the freshman class has won an award and this is only our second silver award. The academy’s past awards are an Emmy, two Worldfest Houston awards and one Summit Award. Since 1999 we have had four students win the national Emma Bowen Foundation 3 year intern/scholarship with KRIV Fox 26. This is through our partnership with KRIV Fox 26 and Vice President D’Artagnan Bebel.

 

Our academy, for two years in a row, has had at least one student represent Houston as a participant in the Asian American Journalists Association’s JCAMP for high school students. We have graduates that have worked with Dan Rather, Tavis Smiley and three of our students won runner up with the 2004 Missy Elliott National TV Commercial contest with UPN. Our program was the first in the nation to win the ABC/Disney National Talent Development Scholarship. Last, but not least, our 6th Annual Music Video and Short Film Showcase is Saturday, April 28 at the First Colony AMC Movie Theatre. This is the second time we have screened our students work at the local movie theatre. 
 
We were able to pull Ted Irving aside for a few questions

SVN:  Tell us about your background and how you decided to start teaching TV/Video production?

TI: After working for one year as a news editor for the local Houston ABC station, Jack Yates High School for Communications contacted me about teaching. I was already a volunteer in the community and I figured I could satisfy my need to work with youth and pursue my TV/Film career at the same time. I was hired by Jack Yates during the summer of 1994 and I stayed on part-time with KTRK for another two years. I went back in to TV full time  as a Sports Photog with KRIV Fox 26 from 1996 to 1999 and returned to teaching in 1999 with the Hightower High School Electronic Media Academy.

SVN:  How did you obtain initial funding for your program? How do you fund the class now?

TI: We are funded every year and it appears to be a mainstay budget for the district.

SVN:  Did you have equipment available?

TI: When I started the SDI based control room and studio were in place.

SVN:  How many kids are in the TV/Video Production classes?  How is it broken down?  Is it a multi-year program?

TI: We have around 135 students in our academy. The media academy is similar to the college course structure with students taking a series of courses over four years; one per year. They must complete all courses to receive their medal upon graduation.

SVN:  Can you tell us a little more about the sessions:  How long are the classes? How many students? What types of projects?

TI:  Our school is on a block schedule so classes are 90 minutes.

The freshman course is Intro to Visual Communications and is a basic class focusing on the history of Radio, TV & Film as well as new media and the internet. Projects consist of video biographies, small talk shows and use of small Sony Handycams.

The 10th grade course, Video Tech 1 is an intro to the Sony PD170, basic non-linear editing with Final Cut Pro, 3 point ENG & EFP lighting with Arri and Lowell kits and some audio/sound manipulation with Soundtrack and garage band.

The 11th grade is Intro to Media Tech (a dual credit college course) and it is all ENG and newscast prep. Students produce a live, 10 minute newscast that is broadcast to the student body.

The 12th grade  class is called Media Tech 1 (a dual credit college course) and students learn digital filmmaking with Sony Z1U cameras. Each student must produce a two minute short film by themselves for the fall and during the spring the class works as a team to produce a 5 minute short film.

Media Tech 2 is our senior internship program. Students must meet rigid qualifications. If they are chosen, their internship opportunities consist of the Houston Texans, The Houston Aeros, The Houston Zoo, Locke Bryan Productions, KPRC Channel 2 NBC and Missouri City TV.

SVN:  How many kids to do the morning news broadcast?  Do you also do a weekly broadcast? Special events coverage?

TI:  We have a newscast for both A.Day and B.Day and there are between 10 and 16 students that work on the show. We don’t have a weekly newscast, daily only and each junior is placed in a team of two; Reporter and Photog. They go out and cover stories on a weekly basis as well as upload sports segments to Fox Hilites (new).
 

SVN:  What jobs do the kids do?  Do the kids rotate through on-air talent and crew positions or are they “hired” for a specific task?

TI:  Kids perform various duties and the positions are as follows; Anchor, Sports Anchor, Weather anchor, floor manager, teleprompter, TD, Director, Audio, CG, playback, lighting, archivist and bulletin board manager (infocaster). Students rotate positions ever 9 weeks. Anchors rotate every semester after auditions.

SVN:  Do students audition for on-air positions?

TI: Yes

SVN:  Do they write the content?

TI: Yes. They write all show scripts, VO’s, VOSOT’s, packages, etc.

SVN:  How long does the show run? 

TI:  10 minutes

SVN:  Do you submit programming to independent contest such as those sponsored by StudicaSkills and SchoolTube TV?

TI:  Yes.  We have 14 Telly Awards, one Summit Award, one Texas Regional Emmy and two Worldfest Houston awards

SVN:  Can your broadcast be viewed outside the school? District-wide?  Local cable access?  On your school/district web-site?

TI: We can not broadcast outside of our building. We are working on hiring a 3rd party host to stream our program, but we have to work with our district legal department to handle all clearances. 
  
SVN: Do you have an equipment list you can share with our readers?
TI:  Abekas 8150 Digital switcher, 3 Sony CCU’s, Globecaster, Mackie 24 channel board, Infocaster, professional lighting grid with Arri and Leko lights, 10 Final Cut Pro MacIntel quad core editing systems, one Avid Xpress Pro PC system, 12 Sony PD170 cameras, 2 Sony Z1U HDV cameras, 4 Sony Handycams, one large Lighting survival kit with flags, cookies, silks, etc., 40 sand bags of various weights, pigeon plates, baby plates, two Mombo Combo’s, 12 C-Stands, two Incident & Reflected light meters, cinesaddle, one dolly, one steadicam, Sony HDV decks and Sony DVCAM decks and finally, three Sony ENG-DSR300a cameras.

SVN:  Have any quick start tips!
TI: If you get funding for a studio to be built, fight like hell to have a separate A/C chiller.