- About the Program
This extracurricular high school television production program builds character and teaches habits of mind and career skills that extend beyond graduation. In accomplishing these important goals on an âextraâ basis, the programâs success prompts a question: just what should the standard curriculum of a school contain?
This extracurricular high school television production program builds character and teaches habits of mind and skills that extend beyond graduation.
Itâs 7:30 a.m. and Studio 602 at Kingston High School in Kingston, New York, is already buzzing with student activity. In just 20 minutes the daily news show, broadcast to every homeroom of the 2,300-plus student body, will be on the air. A variety of computer programs need to be checked, cameras and lighting readied, teleprompter scripts reviewed, last-minute information incorporated, and on-the-spot repairs accomplished. Working together are students of all typesâartists, self-described computer geeks, scientifically and mathematically inclined thinkers, literature buffs, and performers. When it comes to âWake Up, KHS!â (the programâs moniker), every contributorâs talents are critical.
âThis program was the greatest stepping stone I could have had towards my current work,â said Justin Wilkes, KHS Class of â95. âIn high school I didnât know what I really wanted to do as a career. This program provided the best opportunity for figuring that out. As for the skills that I learned and built here, Iâm still using them on a daily basis, and Iâll continue to use them throughout my whole life.â Wilkes, a graduate of New York University with a bachelorâs degree in film and literature is, at 29, the executive producer and head of @radical.mediaâs content group. Wilkesâs credits include the Emmy Award-winning History Channel series, 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America; Iconoclasts, a documentary series for the Sundance Channel; and the feature film Jay-Z: Fade to Black. Walt Disney Theatrical Productions hired Wilkes while he was still in college to work on their productions of The Lion King and Aida. After he graduated, he stayed with Disney to work on the world premier production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Berlin.
When Wilkes was just 14 and entering Kingston High School, in the fall of 1991, the television studio was in mothballs. Built in the 1970s as part of a campus reconstruction project, the original intention was to bring a public access television site to the high school campus and teach students basic television production. But the room had been closed for years due to lack of funding and lack of interest in keeping what was perceived as âjust another extracurricular program alive.â
Wilkes and a small group of friendsâincluding Gary Tomczyk Jr., who returned to Kingston after college to become the districtâs coordinator of network/ technologyâwere determined to put the studio back on the air. âOur vision was to create a real television studio that would allow us to tell the stories of our school community and be a true reflection of our diverse student body. Just because it didnât exist before didnât mean to us that we couldnât make it happen,â Wilkes said.
Wilkes convinced English teacher John Moriarty, who has a background in theater, and technology teacher Tim Fitzmaurice, who now oversees the television studio program at Red Hook High School in Red Hook, New York, to be faculty advisers to the rebirthed television program. âIt really was Justinâs visionâwe were just willing allies,â Moriarty said. And literally with lots of duct tape, with only one building entirely wired for television in its classrooms (during the first year, the show played to less than 20 percent of the campus), spliced cables, and the enthusiasm of Wilkesâs pioneering ninth graders, the studio doors were reopened.
Fifteen years later, there are televisions in every homeroom throughout the five buildings of the sprawling campus. The public address system is silenced during morning broadcast time. The studio uses a sophisticated âvideo toasterâ which, among its many uses, enables fades, cuts, overlays, and complex animated switching effects. Administrators appear on the show to address students on important issues, and such dignitaries as former president Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, Governor George Pataki, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, and National Endowment for the Arts chairperson Dana Gioia have been interviewed and filmed by student journalists. Several years ago, a portion of the studio crew even made a national guest appearance when they were interviewed on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer smiling into one studentâs camera and saying, âWake up, KHS!â
In addition to the morning program, for the last year and a half KHS TV has been producing a public access television program entitled Kingston City Schools Chronicles with each show featuring a different school in the district. Hosted by superintendant Gerard Gretzinger, whose guests are principals, assistant principals, program directors, teachers, and students, the aim is to keep the public informed about what is going on in the schools. Most importantly, there is a committed group of over 30 students who work before and after school hours (and sometimes in the summer and during vacation time) to bring the news of their community to their fellow students and faculty.
The importance of extracurricular activities in school cannot be underplayed. In fact, the idea of âextraâ curricular begs the question of just what the standard curriculum of a school should contain. According to an article in the November 4, 2006, issue of the New York Times, the faculty at Scarsdale High School in New York is proposing to drop the array of Advanced Placement courses from their standard curriculum. âAt an evening forum held to acquaint Scarsdale parents with the faculty proposal, critics of A.P. courses asked: Is it our mission to steal a head start on college? Or should we be cultivating habits of mind like tolerance of ambiguity, persistence in the face of setbacks, the ability to work with others on complex problems?â
Wilkes, who clearly mastered those habits of mind, would certainly agree with Scarsdaleâs faculty. âOur educational system must be critically flawed if we judge a studentâs future simply by how he or she performed on a standardized test,â he said. âKHS TV was initially born as a place where students could come together to develop, create, and experiment with media in a way that hadnât existed before within the high school. What quickly evolved was a fully functioning news and entertainment studio complete with full-time staff, operating budgets, and around-the-clock schedules. There is no better compliment to the core educational curriculum than a place where creative ideas can be debated and exchanged, real-world issues and responsibilities traded, and where students from various backgrounds and interests can connect and collaborate. I have to believe this kind of environment is more likely to challenge and develop a student in a more meaningful way than anything a standardized test could prove.â
Although a credit-bearing television production class would be high on Moriartyâs wish list, he recognizes that because of the studentsâ academic load and the demands of advanced placement courses, limiting access to those who signed up for a TV course would mean that âsome of our brightest kids would not be able to be a part of the studio.â
English teacher Andy Sheber joined Moriarty as coadviser to the studio program seven years ago. He noted that those highly academic students who are drawn to very complicated computer software and hardware such as the video toaster âare like kids in a candy store when theyâre in the studio. It challenges them intellectually and allows them to flaunt their skills in a way thatâs not just about serving themselves. Their grades may be about âhey, Iâm the smartest. Iâm going to be valedictorian.â But this involvement is about service. The kid whoâs not making any team can still shine among his peers. That kid that can be responsible for a product that is not just about serving the group but the whole facility. So thereâs this real-world application and a sense of purpose that goes over and above much of everything else they do in school.â
Joseph Hamburg, in his senior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), was the high schoolâs valedictorian in 2003 and the president of KHS TV. At RPI he is majoring in computer and systems engineering as well as mathematics and leaning toward attending graduate school for electrical engineering, possibly connected to communication systems. He is currently editor-in-chief of The Polytechnic, the collegeâs tabloid-sized weekly publication. Hamburg believes that the work he put into ensuring that the high school television program would be able to broadcast dailyâsomeway, somehowâand having the dedication and the motivation to see it through, with the help of others, was invaluable and helped him to prepare for a successful life after high school. He said that being exposed to a great deal of technology also gave him a glimpse of the some of the technologies heâs seen in college.
Hamburg acknowledged the concern that this is a time when the national emphasis is on test scores and that stringent government regulations often direct the mission of public school education. Extracurricular programs are sometimes considered âfluffâ and are often the first to be cut in budgetary crises. âI would argue that high school is about learning both knowledge and skills and that my involvement in the Kingston television program increased both,â Hamburg said. âAside from the broadcasting knowledge alone, students learn how to build motivation, handle responsibility, and increase leadership skills. To me, this can enhance the textbook knowledge one learns in high school. The studio also provides a place where people can participate without fear of getting a bad grade if something does not go right. Therefore youâre more apt to take a chance that could definitely have a positive effect. One could also argue that government testing itself is actually fluff since it does nothing but retest metrics that are already being measured. Just because another test is administered does not mean that any new learning has actually taken place.â
According to adviser Sheber, the program provides âlife lessons galore. As our students begin to understand the power of the media, its implications, and how it can be manipulated, there are a lot of eye-opening conversations. Even the music thatâs played with the programming can result in a complex discussion of how a song might affect the people hearing it on the air, and of what might be considered offensive in a diverse setting like Kingston High School and possibly impact the atmosphere of the campus in a negative way.â According to Moriarty, any time a student handles a controversial topic, he or she must construct a program that is respectful of all the various constituents and then try to put it on the air in a respectful way. âEven when it goes through all the filtersâthey review it, we look at it as advisers, we all chat about it togetherâthe complaining phone call can still come in. It teaches a huge lesson about community,â Moriarty said.
Writing for Educational Leadership in September 2002, John Holloway raised the question of whether educators can use the engagement characteristics of extracurricular programs âto inform classroom practice and school structure.â Certainly there are significant engagement models to be extracted from the Kingston High School television production program, where students take on challenging tasks, make important decisions, and have a real voice in the process and ownership of a project. Consider the untapped energy that exists in every high school and imagine having the ability to harness that fervor to classroom learning.
Imagine further what that kind of successful experience in making a positive difference for themselves and others would do to the very nature of citizenship itself. According to B. R. Barber, writing in the journal The School Administrator, âServing others is not just a form of do-goodism or feel-goodism; it is a road to social responsibility and citizenship. When linked closely to classroom learning . . . it is an ideal setting for bridging the gap between the classroom and the street, between the theory of democracy and its much more obstreperous practice. . . . Service is an instrument of civic pedagogy. . . . In serving the community, the young forge commonality; in acknowledging difference, they bridge division; and in assuming individual responsibility, they nurture social citizenship.â
Barber, Benjamin R. âThe Apprenticeship of Liberty: Schools for Democracy,â The School Administrator, May 1998.
Berger, Joe. âDemoting Advanced Placement,â October 5, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com (accessed October 5, 2006).
Holloway, John. âExtracurricular Activities and Student Motivation,â Educational Leadership, September 2002.
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