Published Online: March 12, 1997

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The Screen Set

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Several Dearborn High teachers in English and social studies, Gibb says, now accept video term papers. He views that as vindication for his advocacy of 'the new literacy.'

Over the years, Gibb, 67, has amassed more than a million dollars worth of equipment in the two converted classrooms that make up his studio. Again, much of it has come from contributions from the local cable franchise, although civic organizations have helped out, too.

Gibb's program, which he runs with teacher Kurt Doelle, serves about 100 students from Dearborn High and two other high schools.

When he began the television production program in 1982, Gibb modeled it on a high school athletic program. "I asked myself, 'Why do the jocks get everything?'" he recalls. "The answer is: They've got the biggest building in the school. They stay around after school. They compete and win recognition."

He made sure his studio had an outside door and its own security system so he could keep it open after regular hours. When his purple Lincoln Continental is parked outside on the sidewalk--as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 9 p.m., even during the summer months--his students know the studio is open.

His class, part of the school's vocational department, for years has been a district showpiece for visiting officials. Celebrity has spared Gibb some of the conflict between vocational and college tracks that exists in other video production programs. But, he adds, "some colleagues think this is a waste."

Some, but not all. Several Dearborn High teachers in English and social studies, Gibb says, now accept video term papers. He views that as vindication for his advocacy of "the new literacy."

The camera is today's pen, he says, and he wants his students to know its grammar.

And, almost unique among vocational offerings, his program has been a melting pot for electronics students who want to explore their artistic talents and college-bound drama students who want to understand the demands of the small screen.

One of Gibb's student engineers, for example, set out this school year to produce a music video that would be accessible to deaf students.

For subject matter, Gibb steered him to Gilbert & Sullivan, and senior Joe Clear ended up with a five-minute video of a song from the operetta, "H.M.S. Pinafore." The lively performance features a singing admiral in a powdered wig and a chorus of girls in frocks--all of whom simultaneously repeat the lyrics in sign language for the deaf.

Clear, who co-produced the video with senior Sharief Taraman, says the experience opened his eyes to some new source material: classical music. "I just bought a Vivaldi CD," he says.

Gibb doesn't teach from a textbook, assigning projects instead such as making a video about a person or producing an advertisement. Often, students make "anti-advertisements," such as one student's humorous speculation on the origin of Spam.

Competition is a key element of the model video-production program that Gibb pioneered.

For the last 15 years, Gibb's students have gone to the local cable studio to produce a live interview show that runs every Saturday night. Many of his students have received scholarships and local grants to attend university-based summer video programs in Michigan and elsewhere.

He speaks with pride about his students who have gone on to work in television. One became a writer and producer for the television series, "Northern Exposure." Another produces and directs television commercials for national products.

Sometimes, Gibb says, his students' choices of subject matter can be explosive, but he doesn't interfere. He asks them, "Are you willing to take the flack on it and willing for me to be tied up handling the outcry?" If so, they get the green light.

Several years ago, one of his students won a prize for a video project on gays and lesbians.

Competition is a key element of the model video-production program that Gibb pioneered. Learmont's studio displays many of the trophies and awards that her students have won, and Gibb's students also win their share.

The competition is fierce. In recent years Bloomfield Hills has dominated the prized Emmy awards, given by the Michigan chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the year's best 30-second public-service announcement.

Learmont makes no apology for being competition-driven. Contests give students goals and impose deadlines, she says.

At the hockey game, Andover High has widened its lead over Lahser, while inside the television truck Aaron Berman is having a good night.

A scuffle breaks out between the Andover and Lahser players, to the delight of the 16-year-old director. "Fight!," he says. "Follow it, everyone. Camera Two, take a shot of the fans."

As the game winds to a close, his four cameras have grabbed clear shots of all the scoring, a goalie's glove save of a deflected puck, and a tangle of punches.

The audio was good, the graphics free of misspellings, and his cameras captured a good closing shot of Andover's players raising a large trophy above their heads to celebrate the win.

The tape will make a good contest entry, and Berman, who has been involved in video clubs since the 6th grade and who hopes to make a career in television, beams with pride. "I've never been involved with such a successful game."

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