“Live from Amherst Middle School. . . . . “
At 8:52 a.m. each school day pupils at Amherst Middle School go on the air live to broadcast the morning announcements. A pupil-managed television production, "Tech TV Morning Show," uses technology not found in any school in the world.
Over the past three years, technology teacher Robert Zdrojewski designed and built the TV studio, now used for seventh- and eighth-grade video projects, as well as the TV morning show. Zdrojewski said he conceived the idea of turning his office into a TV studio but the image grew from there, and he received permission from the district to expand into a storage room.
The custom-built studio is split into two rooms. There is the control room, where crew members run the show, with equipment to monitor sound, teleprompting, lights and the technical aspects of the production.
The other room, the recording studio, is where the newscaster and on-camera talent are. It is a sound-resistant room with double steel stud, insulated walls for acoustics. The blue and green walls allow for broadcasting of images of set designs. Also in the recording studio are televisions for teleprompting. "We can proudly say we do have the only teacher-built and designed school TV studio like this in the world," Zdrojewski said. The video software is from Serious Magic and called Visual Communicator (Serious Magic was recently purchased by Adobe). Through the software, the morning show is not only broadcast throughout the middle school but also Amherst High School, Smallwood and Windermere. The show is also streamed on the Internet at www.amherstschools.org/webpages/ATechTV/video2.cfm.
The TV studio operates on $70,000 worth of software that was donated at no cost to the district. Zdrojewski also was awarded a $2,500 grant from the local Best Buy store, which he used to purchase the DVD burner, flat-panel monitors and other hardware. In his sixth year of teaching, Zdrojewski said the idea for the studio started out in one 10-foot by 12-foot room, which had been his office. He continued to dream, adding the storage area, and the two rooms are now 12 feet by 14 foot and 18 feet by 20 feet. He estimates that he put in 1,000 hours of labor on weekends, evenings and school breaks - all which were voluntary.
Through his hands-on work, and relationships with Serious Magic, he created a TV studio that has been featured by the company on its Web site. The attention has led to Zdrojewski being contacted by teachers from as far away as England.
"We became a showcase school for the company. Schools across the world want to know how to get what we have," he said. Zdrojewski added that he tells schools looking to build a TV studio how to get started and that it doesn't take much. (Robs articles will be featured in a three-part series beginning in the August issue of School Video News.)
While seventh- and eighth-graders create a video project in the studio as their curriculum, the morning show is all voluntary. In addition to the live segment, pupils' video messages are also featured in the show. Zdrojewski said the school has been doing a morning announcement show, and the "Tech TV Morning Show" is the evolution of that.
"It truly was a labor of love, and as the classroom teacher working daily in the studio, I now get the reward of seeing kids experience something that no other school currently offers," Zdrojewski said.
Now that the studio is up and running, we were able to spend a few minutes with Rob and pin him down on some questions:
SVN: How many students in the program?
RJ: Specifically our Tech TV morning show internship program, has around 25 kids (5 each day’s crew). These kids train by performing each of the 6 jobs five times to be certified on it. Once certified on a job, they can help others get certified for it and can move up the job list. There are 6 jobs, kids must work way up from bottom. In order they are—Attendance, Assistant Director, Director, Microphones, Computer, and Producer. Once certified for all 6 jobs, they earn the title of Senior Producer, and can come any day.
Any student grade 6-8 can signup to be a newscaster for a day, via our website form submission tool. This involves all 800+ kids in our school in some way. Also, any student with “late breaking” news can come to the podium and say it. Typically these are short sports highlights.
The other branch of our TV program involves my 8th grade classes, where we do a unit on Video Production. Here students are required to create a 30 sec “Caring Message” video project, which can then be used on a daily live show at the end. This intro project teaches them VC, and after that they can make optional videos, topics of their choice. At the end of the 3 week unit, I burn DVDs for all kids to take home with all projects on it.
SVN: As you are a middle school, do the kids stay with the program for all years?
RJ: Yes, those on TV crews can stay year to year, and certifications stick from year to year. This being the 1st year in the new studio we built, I happen to have a majority of 6th graders, which is great as they will carry on as long as they want through the end of 8th grade.
SVN: How long are the classes?
RJ: Class periods are 40 minutes. The majority of my teaching VC to kids is via pre-recorded Camtasia videos I made. This way, it’s “learning on demand” and kids feel like I am working with them one on one. I’ve provided these Camtasias to many educators and they also use them with their kids or to get familiar with VC.
SVN: Do you meet every day?
RJ: Yes, both for morning show and classes. Morning show kids get here at 8am, we begin VC by 8:20, first rehearsal by 8:40, and go live at 8:52. Show must be done by 9am.
SVN: We have noticed you submit lots of programming to StudicaSkills. Is contest submission a part of the class?
RJ: It’s optional to submit projects to Studica Skills site, but 99% say yes, especially after we’ve been announcing the monthly winners and upcoming BIG prizes!
SVN: Does CREW function as TALENT also?
RJ: If scheduled newscaster (see calendar on our website) doesn’t show up by 8:30am, we pick another kid, sometimes someone from our crew.
SVN: Do students audition for on-air positions?
RJ: No, this year I did a combo of signing up via our website, and email gets sent to me. I also had a signup sheet go out to each Homeroom and kids signed up from there. I then put their names in, and they needed to check the online calendar to see their date. Sometimes I printout the web calendar and have homeroom teachers distribute.
SVN: Do you have an equipment list you can share with our readers?
RJ: Not exactly, but I can give recommendations when asked for the “above and beyond” optional things nice to have besides the PC and camera itself. If budgets allow, I recommend a 3CCD camcorder like Panasonic models under $1000, Savage brand softbox lights that have compact fluorescent bulbs from Adorama, a full size greenscreen for full body chromakeying from Belger photography, wireless mics from B&H photovideo, and a flat panel LCD TV for the teleprompter. These are nice to have items, but of course not necessary for beginning. Cheap lighting can be done with clamp on lights we used when starting out a few years ago.
Take a few minutes to view the Classroom and Schoolwide Projects above. You will see why we are so impressed with the talent and technology of TechTV from Amherst Middle School.
Rob Zdrojewski’s series Building a Middle School Studio will begin in the August issue of School Video News. Sign up now for your free subscription if you haven't already done so.