video production to teach higher level skills
Couch potatoes need not
apply to York's broadcast video program
rigor" and "television" are terms not always used together,
but at York Community High School in Elmhurst, they fit well.
"Some of our students
sign up because they think it's an easy way out of our speech requirement",
says Dave Venetucci, who teaches broadcast journalism at York. "They
don't realize how tough it is."
Venetucci, a journalism and
speech instructor with a background in television news, is now in his
third year teaching basic and advanced broadcast courses. The goal of
the program, he says, is as much to develop students' writing, planning
and thinking abilities as their technical media skills. The chance to
produce television programming is the bait that lures these teens to
challenge themselves. They often find they have much more ability than
A step by step program
York offers two semester-long
production classes. In the first, mostly sophomore and junior-year students
learn the basics of broadcast journalism. Using a step by step approach,
Venetucci takes them through the fundamentals of news gathering, script
writing, equipment usage and media production. There's a healthy dose
of background material, too, including First Amendment issues. Then
he puts them to work on hands-on video projects, culminating in a two
to three minute "TV news package," which is the edited, videotaped
portion of a television news broadcast. To create their segments, students
shoot with portable cameras, edit, and add studio introductions using
chroma key effect, titles and voiceovers.
"It seems to work,"
says Venetucci, "because we're able to find out, early on, which
of our students are serious. The kids who don't complete the paperwork
part of the course don't get the ability to work in the hands-on groups.
They can't touch the equipment until they've demonstrated academic responsibility
Venetucci designed a second,
advanced class for juniors and seniors interested in careers in media,
whether that's television, print or radio. Here they spend the semester
producing a half-hour TV news magazine. Last school year, says Venetucci,
two of these programs were aired on Media One's local access channel
The Creativity Center
broadcast classes use York's Creativity Center (a computer multimedia
lab) and Broadcast Communication Center (which consists of two video
studios and an editing room). According to Mike Torney, who is in
charge of both facilities, the centers are also available to students
throughout the school for a wide range of projects. Students in American
History create family histories and past/present connections using
still picture videos (similar to what Ken Burns did with The Civil
War). They also interview older relatives for their impressions of
this century. Sociology students do "Who Am I" still picture
videos, business education classes produce TV commercials, and English,
science and art students work on a variety of videos and gifics. Students
can use the systems to create computer presentations with imported
video and audio, bring video images into printed newspapers and reports,
and dump computer text, graphics and animations to videotape.
has been using video with students for more than 25 years, but Torney
had to start almost from scratch when took over five years ago. Studio
equipment had become outdated or nonfunctional. The multimedia lab
was being used mainly to create posters and transparencies by hand.
Torney wanted to take advantage of the emerging video capabilities
of computers. "Much of the polish that may be seen on student
productions," he says, "is made possible by computers with
the ability to frame grab' and dump' to videotape. Students
produce on video, but bring portions to the computer to make adjustments,
titles, and credits. Then they dump back to video for mass showings."
One problem Torney faces
is funding equipment purchases. The District 205 Foundation for Educational
Excellence, a non-profit organization which provides monies to Elmhurst
public schools, has been been very generous to the centers. Torney
says Kevin Cavanaugh of United Visual has also made a contribution.
"Kevin's been great at finding us just the right equipment, as
well as training us and taking care of pieces that malfunction."
In a typical day about
200 students work on projects at the centersand virtually every
student at York uses its systems. "In most of the schools I've
visited," says Torney, "the TV studio is for the TV kids
only. But the Panasonic equipment that Kevin found us lets almost
anyone come in and get their feet wet. There's not much they can do
Start small and build
The larger of York's two
studios features a three- camera setup, plus a control room with a
new Panasonic audio/video mixer and an ElectroVoice sound board. There's
also a smaller studio with two cameras and a postproduction suite
with three editing systems. The multimedia lab features seven camcorder
copy stands, six computer workstations, two tape to tape dubbing stations,
and four audio dubbing booths. Torney has outfitted the computers
with HyperStudio, Astound, Claris Slide Show, and MacroMedia Action,
plus a few other programs. One computer system has a color scanner,
and he has interfaced two more workstations to laserdisc players and
the camcorder copy stands.
Torney cuts corners where
he can but buys quality where it counts. He converted the smaller
studio from a classroom and uses the room's standard florescent lighting.
He mounted new portable cameras on older studio pedestals donated
by Sears and painted a wall blue to take advantage of the mixer's
chroma-key capability. He was able to put an old teleprompter to good
use, mounting it on a camera pedestal with homemade hardware.
On the other hand, he was
careful to choose S-VHS recorders for the studios and editing suite,
buys the fastest computer equipment he can afford, and was able to
take advantage of a first-rate lighting grid installed years ago in
the larger studio.
Torney has some useful
advice for other educators who might want to start up similar programs.
"Start small and build," he said. "There's a tendency
with a lot of people to go with the latest technology rather than
what would work. For example, I've visited other schools using those
new digital still cameras, and a lot of them are very limited."
Torney uses VHS camcorders for frame grabbing, liking their macro
zoom lenses, ability to shoot motion video, and low cost. "In
multimedia," he says, "you're going to end up on a monitor
with only 72 dpi, so you don't need anything heavy duty."
"Our operation's not
as sophisticated as some," Venetucci says. "We have all
sorts of gremlins that creep in, for instance, when we're doing audio
workbut it gives the kids an excellent hands-on experience.
They're using the basic technology that they would encounter in an
industrial, educational, or broadcast operation." Sometimes the
limitations are frustrating, especially if equipment goes down. "But
I keep telling the kids," Venetucci says, "that it's
the same thing the pros go through. They've got better equipment,
but they still have deadlines and technology issues. They can't always
get the biggest and the best bells, buzzers and whistles. You've got
to make do with what you have and do the best job you can, in the
available time that you have.'"
out the best
Because the broadcast
courses are part of York's journalism program, there's a strong emphasis
on writing. Students go through numerous drafts on scripts, with Venetucci
serving as teacher and consultant. "To keep them honest, I say,
you can't produce these pieces until the scripting is acceptable.'
And that forces them to work hard. They see that there's a reason
they have to take good notes when we start talking about effective
lead writing, for example. They're going to be doing that. It's not
enough to regurgitate factual knowledge. They have to internalize
the concepts and understand what's going on."
Despite the rigor, the
broadcast journalism courses are quite popular at York. Last year
about 70 students completed the basic class and 30 finished the advanced.
The skills these students learn are impressive. "They're learning
how to report, how to direct, how to edit videotapes," comments
Venetucci. " They're learning how to budget and manage their
time, and to work with other people cooperatively." Most importantly,
they're learning to put out their best efforts, and they have the
chance to see how much those efforts can accomplish. "Too often
kids can get away with low level stuff," says Venetucci. "
When they're required to demonstrate higher level thinking, to synthesize
information and apply the terms and concepts they've learned, they
sometimes struggle. But these courses require these kinds of skills.
Once our students realize our expectations, they rise to the challenge.
And they do a great job. They never cease to amaze me with what they
can do both creatively and technically."