Islip Schools, a small school district located on Long Island in New York, prides itself on being nimble.
Their small size allows them to try out new things on a small scale, and in these tough economic times, with a small budget. A few years ago, when Islip Middle School wanted to create a TV studio, I got together with a group of school leaders to make it work.
Tell us about your background and how you decided to start teaching TV/Video production?
I could tell you about me, but the great thing about our studio is it is a team project. I’m a music/tech guy, our principal Dr. Timothy Martin and assistant principal James Cameron are thoroughly dedicated to school climate, and Joseph Ackerman (Math) and Robert Russell (Student Services Advisor) are great club advisors who make it work for kids. The studio actually started many years ago when Islip Middle School created a closed-circuit television studio. The program didn’t last very long, and the studio space was abandoned and became a storage area for (ironically) old electronics. One day the building principal asked if we could create an updated studio in the same space. It started as a proof of concept project between the building leadership team and the Technology Department. We put it together without telling too many folks. We built the studio, got kids involved and did a month of tests before premiering it live to our faculty at a meeting. We then did a live broadcast for the Board of Education and premiered our first live show to the school three days later.
How did you obtain initial funding for your program? How do you fund the class now?
We pride ourselves on having built the studio on a shoestring. We received about $700 from our School of Excellence Committee and added in another $2000 from various budget areas. We started with 1 camera we already owned and added another as well as lighting kit with a green screen. Our biggest expenditure was a 4 camera switcher which cost us about $1,500. The rest we did with elbow grease. We cleaned out and painted the room and repurposed a couple of computers from other locations to serve as our prompter and our graphics station. The Sports Boosters came to us early on and donated funds for a field recording setup so we could capture sporting events and do standups around the school. An anonymous donor contributed $2,500 last year and allowed us to upgrade some gear and add more lighting to our studio, which has significantly improved the look of our shows.
Did you have equipment available?
We already had the ability to stream live over our intranet. That allowed us to avoid having to figure out how to deal with internet streaming. That infrastructure already existed within our network.
How many kids are in the TV/Video Production clubs? How is it broken down? Is it a multi-year program?
Our principal, Dr. Timothy Martin, broke the work up into two separate clubs. We started with over 60 students combined, but it’s hard to use that many students in a small studio with limited equipment. We have 33 now, with 19 working on the live production and 14 working on creating “packages” in the field. Some students stay on for multiple years. This year we are blessed with a group of very talented and enthusiastic 6th graders, so we look forward to some very positive growth by the time they are in 8th grade.
How long are the meetings?
The clubs meet after school on Monday for about 45-50 minutes. On broadcast weeks the live team meets every day during our Advisory/Homeroom period for about 20 minutes to rehearse.
How many kids to do the morning news broadcast?
We do a broadcast every other week. At least 10 kids work on the live show, so it gets pretty crowded in the studio.
Do your students capture other school events?
Our field reporters cover events around the school. The assignments they receive from their advisor include fundraisers, dances, sporting events, and even our Renaissance Rally held for students that have exhibited great academic success and/or character expectations at the end of each quarter. The faculty is encouraged to contact our clubs to share their best practices in daily lessons with the school in feature presentations.
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?
Our “on-air talent” includes 3 anchors, a weatherperson, someone to do the Pledge of Allegiance and host of our own little invention called Treasure Chest Trivia. The technical crew involves a sound person, a video switcher, a graphics person, a teleprompter operator, and a few camera operators. They are free to move to other jobs and even encouraged to do so. Our most recent broadcast had an almost completely new crew from the previous one.
Do students audition for on-air positions?
Yes, they do. Because we have a range of jobs we can accommodate a variety of abilities. Some may read The Pledge of Allegiance, while others have a complex script to prepare and read. The more spirited and outgoing get to host the trivia contest, which can be great fun.
Do they write the content?
Mr. Joseph Ackerman advises our field reporters, but many write and edit their own pieces. Some of our studio crew edits as well. Our script is supervised and created mostly by Dr. Martin, our studio advisor Mr. Robb Russell and our assistant principal James Cameron, but our students have begun creating and editing scripts as well. Having only an hour a week to prepare a script makes this a challenge, but we look forward to turning most of it over soon.
How long does the show run?
Approximately 12 minutes.
Do you submit programming to independent contest such as those sponsored by StudicaSkills and SchoolTube TV?
Can your broadcast be viewed outside the school? District-wide? Local cable access? On your school/district web-site?
The broadcast is available district wide. We also bought the url imstv.org that redirects to our online host, where we upload shows after broadcast.
Where do you post programming?
We use our own web server to make shows available online after broadcast.
Do you have an equipment list you can share with our readers?
• Shure SM93 Lavalier Mics and SM58 Desktop Mics
• Edirol VR-3 AV Mixer (no longer available)
• Sony DCR-SX85 Camera
• Magnus VT 300 Tripods
• Westcott Illusions Green Screen/ Lighting Kit
• 1 computer running PowerPoint for titles/green screen
• 1 computer running easyprompter.com for teleprompting
• Canon Vixia HF R40 Camera
• Rolls MX36 Camera Audio Mixer and Shure SM58 Microphone (field audio is so important and this pair allows us to capture 2 handheld mics straight on to the camera)
• Magnus VT-4000 Tripod System with Dolly
• Canon Vixia HF R500 Cameras (adds a close-up camera to the studio and now we are HD ready!)
• Zoom H2n Handy Recorder (great for field work and plugs straight into the camera)
• 2 American DJ Lighting Trusses
• 4 Genaray SpectroLED Essential 240 Daylights and 2 Genaray SpectroLED-9 lights (better green screen lighting)
• Cord Covers from cableorganizer.com (safety first!)
Have any quick start tips!
• Find enthusiastic staff to lead the effort.
• Build a template for your show and stick with it for a while. Here is ours:
• Start slowly with monthly or bi-weekly shows. (At one point in the startup the advisor talked about going to a daily production...we all laugh about that day.)
• Don’t start live. Build and produce at least 3 shows that no one sees before you go live. Rehearsal is important.
• Put everything on the prompter. When the red light goes on, even the most prepared student can forget the Pledge of Allegiance.
• Sound is critical. Do it well.
• Wireless goes wrong more often than wires. Stick with wires.