On the Other Side of the Tube: Baltimore Pupils Operate TV Studio
Baltimore--At 8:40 A.M., as students in most secondary-school classrooms across the country prepare to hear the morning announcements over the public-address system, the 800 students at Northeast Middle School here view a daily broadcast of school news, weather, announcements, and home-made commercials, all produced by a staff of about 40 students.
At Northeast Middle School (nems), what began seven years ago as a program with a "portapack," reel-to-reel video recorder, and six television sets has grown into a self-sufficient studio operation that broadcasts to black-and-white tele-vision sets in 30 classrooms, has won national awards, and gets professional pointers from WBAL, the local CBS affiliate.
The program, which was established in 1977 by Charles Gummer, a special-education teacher, operates on a yearly budget of $500 that is raised through school activities. Using $12,000 worth of equipment that was given to the school by the Maryland Department of Education, Mr. Gummer and Deborah Terry, a social-studies teacher, oversee a staff of 11- to 14-year-old students that produces the morning program, curriculum materials, and staff-development programs.
"The biggest advantage is that it's a practical experience for a child to learn reading, writing, and speaking abilities," said Terry D. Biller, the school's principal. "All the kids have a chance to work in all areas of the TV studio."
Susan Dikes, a 6th-grade student who joined the program in January, agrees. "Not that many kids get an opportunity like this," she said.
At the start of each day, the nems studio flashes the day's school-lunch menu on each television screen, to the accompaniment of popular music such as the themes from "Flashdance" and "Hill Street Blues." Next, while teachers call the roll, pictures of national monuments and other American sights are shown.
A dozen 6th, 7th, and 8th graders assigned each week from a pool of about 40 studio regulars present the 10- to 15-minute morning broadcast, which includes announcements by students of extracurricular activities, weekly television highlights, and the scores of the Baltimore Orioles, the city's baseball team.
Studio-produced commercials advertising school candy drives and yearbooks punctuate the news re-ports, along with public-service announcements. Each Wednesday, Mr. Biller interviews students and others, including club sponsors, contest winners, and local celebrities like Baltimore's mayor, William Donald Schaefer, who was a guest last month.
Mr. Biller also distributes certificates of achievement for special student projects or contests and for such accomplishments as outstanding attendance records.
The nems studio also broadcasts programs that are used by teachers as curriculum aids. One such program is "Read-In," in which Loretta Moody, a media specialist, discusses popular books and students present short films dramatizing passages from their favorite books.
In a school that has no auditorium, teachers also use the television set as a medium for oratorical competitions, spelling bees, fashion and talent shows, and enrichment programs.
And the studio helps produce inservice programs for teachers, according to Mr. Biller. "We can tape any of the educational [television] programs and show them at a time convenient for teachers to see them," Mr. Biller said. In addition, teachers are videotaped to help them see their instructional strengths and weaknesses.
The students who work in the nems studio before and after school take a communications-technology course taught by Mr. Gummer to learn the skills necessary to work as part of a television-production crew. Another 110 students work in the studio during the day as part of Mr. Gummer's classes.
Students are chosen to participate in the studio club on the basis of their interest and dedication. Mr. Gummer, who selects the students for the much-sought-after club positions, looks for self-discipline and "a deep interest" in television broadcasting, according to Mr. Biller. In addition, the school's gifted students regularly participate in the program.
Ernest Horst, an 8th-grade student who has participated for two years, has worked as an on-screen reporter and anchorman, a cameraman, and a video operator. "Mr. Gummer tries to rotate us so everyone gets exposed to different jobs," said the 8th grader, who wants to pursue a career in broadcasting. "It teaches you how to get along with other people and to cooperate as a team."
Students gain additional experience through their affiliation with WBAL-tv, the local CBS station that "adopted" the school studio in 1982.
Each week, a small group of nems staff members visits the WBAL studio to watch the production of "News at Noon." WBAL staff members have also repaired broken equipment, lent portable recorders and cameras, and donated such equipment as videotapes and television sets.
Felicia Boggs, a 7th grader who is the program's resident "weathergirl," likes the interaction with the WBAL studio. "They give us a lot of pointers as to what it's like to do their job," she said.
Three Merit Awards
From 1981 to 1983, nems won the top three merit awards in the Maryland State School Film Festival. The 1981 award went to a morning program with an on-the-spot report of a school-grounds fire, a commercial for yearbooks, and an interview with a teen-age bear trainer.
A program named after the school's mascot, "The Cougar Roars II," and an interview with the school's 1982 oratorical-contest winner placed second nationally in the 1984 National Student Media Festival in Dallas.
With the goal of upgrading the program in mind, Mr. Biller has applied for Chapter 2 funds and school-improvement funds from a local industry-education program. He would like to add color to the studio's broadcast capacity and to expand the broadcasts to the elementary and high-school levels.
Ms. Abrams and Mr. Gradet are teachers at Northeast Middle School.