TV production classes return to high school

By David Maroney Daily Times Chronicle

Laura Davis is the instructor for the TV production classes operating out of a new studio at the high school library.

Reading Memorial High School has reinstituted classes in producing programs for television broadcasting through the generosity of RCTV and the instruction of Laura Davis.

It’s been over 10 years since Phil Rushworth and Angela Merrill taught the subject at the high school. Phil now heads RCTV with Angela directing their operations on a daily basis.

RCTV supplies all the equipment to the high school from video cameras to TV screens to specially programmed computers and all the other necessary electronic components to make it happen along with Davis’ instruction. In these social media driven times of sound bytes lacking substance, producing thoughtful episode programming can serve to help educate our future generations communicate with some depth.

Davis has been on staff with RCTV since 2010 and holds a Master’s Degree from UMass Boston, majoring in education and a Bachelor’s from Gordon College in Wenham with a concentration in film production. She teaches six classes from freshmen to seniors with an average of eight to ten students per class.

From the basics of getting to know how to use a video camera to producing a thoughtful interview on a school activity, the classes provide students with the opportunity to improve their technical skills in TV production. More importantly perhaps, the student interviews give students a broadcast voice in school activities, thus improving their in-depth communication skills. They also have the opportunity to take the camera outside to further improve their video skills.

There are six classes for this first semester equally divided between producing “Inside RHMS”, which are episodes involving student interviews on specific subjects or working on assigned projects for TV production. Episode 1 covered student interviews on the subjects of RMHS’ classroom hat policy, the activities of the Environmental Club, students favorite TV shows and last Spring’s Swiss Exchange trip. Episode 2 will be covering the stage production of Pippin, French exchange students, the student London trip, Magic and “What State is This”.

Students are graded on Episodes depending upon their participation in them. After completing an Episode, they play it back to see how it can be improved before the next one. The changes are implemented when they go to film and edit. Their grades for now are based on participation only as the Episode program is still very new with the kinks being worked out including the formatting.

A current video project is a stop motion one where a small group of students will create a motion video. They start by filling out a storyboard where a minimum of 100 pictures will be taken to create a moving video along with accompanying music and sound effects. To produce a 30-second stop motion video requires at least 300 pictures to make it appear smooth, so the more pictures the better. Parenthetically, many TV commercials are often of the 30-second variety.

Students may use whatever materials they would like including legos, small figurines, drawings, board games, or even food. The project is graded in 2 phases, planning and the final production. A maximum of 9 points are awarded for planning covering student participation, the story chart and the story line. For the production itself, a maximum of 21 points are awarded for its length ranging from 30 to 60 seconds, to music and sound effects including voiceover and subtitles, to clear and focused images, and finally, frame consistency where there’s no noticeable shaking or moving.

RMHS’ administration and faculty fully support the efforts of Laura Davis and the TV production class by offering ideas, checking out the equipment themselves, providing input with students on their Episodes and seeking to get the whole school involved by signing up themselves for classes in their open time.

Dr. John Doherty, Reading’s School Superintendent says: ”We are excited to be working with RCTV on their recent installation of their new studio, located in the Patrick A. Schettini, Jr. Library Media Center at Reading Memorial High School. This partnership will give our students more access through the TV production classes, to learn a variety of 21st Century Digital Learning Skills, which are critical in this age of technology. The skills learned in this class will give our students additional tools to prepare them for college and future careers.”

From Angela Merrill, Deputy Executive Director at RCTV, “It’s exciting to be back at the high school, now more than ever! The use of technology in young people’s lives is everywhere and it is becoming more and more popular in self-expression and art, so to be able to allow students the opportunity to create with more than just their cell phone is amazing. Laura’s students are learning new skills and are maybe daring to find a world in which they can build a career. At RCTV, we work towards giving individuals a voice in their community and it’s wonderful to be helping the youth of Reading to achieve that too”.

Laura’s longer-term objectives are for the class to grow to 3 classes covering multiple levels of video making from TV production to actual broadcast and film production. The challenge is to build awareness and get an earlier start working with the school’s administration in getting it done. This first year’s start wasn’t decided upon until late last Spring. Building awareness starts the old fashion, yet still most effective form of advertising: “word of mouth”.

The message Laura would like to leave readers with is that TV production is a great way for students to express themselves using equipment they don’t use in everyday life and be exposed to something new.

Further information is available from YouTube at “Inside RMHS” and soon at “insidermhs@rctv.org”.