Organizing and running a video club at school is no easy task, but it can be a great benefit to the students and the community.
How many seventh-grade students do you know who want to go to school before classes begin? Not many, I’m sure. But at Chief Kanim Middle School in Falls City, WA, there’s actually a list filled with the names of students who can’t wait to enter the empty, early-morning halls. And the reason for this uncharacteristic behavior is one close to the hearts of everyone reading this magazine: video.
Forty-five minutes before the entire student body starts its day, about a dozen teens run around, hooking up cables, punching buttons and editing videotape, preparing a short televised news broadcast. These energetic and dedicated kids are members of the school’s video club, now more than a year old. And, just as with professional newsrooms, there is a deadline.
The students type school and community announcements onto a computer, and then display the text on a television that acts as a teleprompter for one of the student anchor reporters. Others in the class mix the video images coming from the two-camera setup and add computer graphics to the production. Sound and lighting checks are also part of the morning regime, which usually requires several takes to satisfy the students.
After taping the show, the crew must complete a final edit before the prompt 7:45 am show, which they broadcast to every classroom in the building.
“It gets a little insane in here, but the kids are very responsible,” says Joe Dockery, the teacher behind this very progressive, in-school video-education program. As Dockery explains it, the impetus to the video club was Principal Scott Poirer’s discovery of a modulator that allowed for broadcast transmissions throughout the school. Poirer recognized the potential for success because of a similar program he helped found at his former school in Clarkston, WA.
With the help of some student body funds, donations from local businesses and his own “expertise” in garage-sale scavenging, Dockery put together just enough video and audio equipment to start the club.
“Once I opened my big mouth, kids got interested and started coming down to my room. It really took off quick,” says Dockery. This year, the video club has made a commitment to focus its attention on community service. The students have opened the morning broadcast to local organizations who want to communicate to students and staff through in-house-created commercials.
“Local companies and organizations can either e-mail or fax us their information and a student will put together a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation for the next day’s broadcast,” begins Dockery. “For example, we are currently highlighting volunteer opportunities in our community provided by the local United Way. We are also involved with a local network promoting health issues important to teens through PSAs [public-service announcements]. We are producing some of these PSAs and NBC has sent us some of their professionally created PSAs for airing on our broadcast.”
The video club also produces video projects for students, district and community that aren’t necessarily created for broadcast. Sports-highlight videos, drama programs and a video yearbook for graduating eighth-grade students are all popular programs.
Chief Kanim Middle School started with a very modest complement of video equipment: a couple of Panasonic AG-190 VHS camcorders, a Macintosh 5300 computer and Dockery’s old Aiwa audio tape deck that sported line in and out connectors. As Dockery explains, “The Mac was our CD player and we did an awful lot of wire pulling at the beginning. I wish I would have known then about Radio Shack’s $24 RCA video switchers! Now we have established a relationship with the local dealer who supplies us with both equipment and knowledge.”
Now, Dockery’s crew has updated to Panasonic AG 1980s S-VHS VCRs and AG-456 S-VHS camcorders in their studio and an assortment of 8mm and VHS in the mobile edit station, which travels from classroom to classroom. Audio-wise, the school relies on Sony stereo equipment, Mackie Mixers and Shure wireless and XLR mics. They use copyright-free CD libraries from Energetic Music for background and theme music. And for effects, editing and titling, a line of Videonics dedicated gear fits the bill. Monitors are courtesy of Dockery’s forays at garage sales. “Most of gear starts used and then is replaced as we get a grant or donation. It just seems like the monitors are the hardest to justify replacing with new, because they basically do the simplest function, and the kids and I would rather see the money spent on jazzing up our production capabilities.”
Dockery, who has a background as a professional/amateur snowboard-contest announcer, prepared for the demands of organizing and running a video club by reading Videomaker. “In all honesty, I picked up your magazine while getting some advice from a local pro. The articles had the uncanny ability to address the exact problems I was facing that month. I was immediately hooked, got a subscription and made your web site my homepage.”
In addition to perusing informative periodicals and attending an editing class over the summer, Dockery says that real-life experience is the best teacher. “I learn right alongside the students, who never fail to teach me new things everyday. They are able to dedicate more of their time to using the equipment than I can due to the demands of my job. But I do have one advantage in that I am usually the only person who has bothered to read the manuals!”
When queried on the reason for integrating video so deeply into his school’s agenda, Dockery is quick to point to the power of the medium. “To produce a video, students have to deal with higher-level thinking, problem solving and communication skills. When they are doing this for a real-life audience, with real-life deadlines and real-life funding on the line, it makes learning more fun, exciting and relevant. It makes it a real-life experience.”
Dockery doesn’t restrict the video to news broadcasts; he uses it in all the subjects he teaches. A math class just finished a series of animated films on the subject of fractions, and his health students are currently at work on an anti-tobacco video. Reading students make video books for kindergartners to use later in the Spring.
It’s obvious there’s a positive interest on the creative side of the video projects, but how do intended audiences respond to the programming? “Our productions get a mixed reception,” says Dockery. “The students enjoy our sports-highlight videos and have come to rely on the morning broadcasts. But they can be as critical of the videos as any middle-school students can be. Our community is proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, and our district feels confident using the video club to produce projects that they will present to other school administrators around the country.” One activity that has received many accolades is the video-ID program, produced in conjunction with a local Mason group. The program records video interviews of children in the community and fingerprints them in the event they ever become lost or kidnapped.
Funding, is one of the major roadblocks in Dockery’s path. But his tenacity and loyalty to the project serves him well. “This is a volunteer position, and it seems like I am constantly filling out grant proposals, networking with other videographers and just simply asking people for their support.” It appears that his work has its rewards. Dockery and his club have raised over $20,000 in equipment and training through assorted grants and donations. “As you know, this is only a drop in the bucket when you are buying video gear. But what it has allowed us to add has markedly improved our production values. Without the advice and help of a number of parents, local professionals and businesses, we could never have stretched our limited budget as far as we have.” Allowed to fantasize about creating a “wish-list” of what his dream studio would be stocked with, Dockery laughingly says he’d only be satisfied when his room resembled the NBC studio visible in the background of national news broadcasts. “Seriously, though, I would like to have just enough equipment so that all of those kids who wished to could get their hands on the gear and start learning, because that is what this is really all about.”
Looking to the future, Dockery plans on developing his present program to the point that it is able to serve his community’s video-production needs. He firmly believes that, by working with businesses in the area, he’ll be able to give students more real-life opportunities in contributing to their communities. “Any time we can get the students more integrated with the community, or, more specifically, make a positive impact on the community, I know we are working in the right direction. And with the enthusiasm expressed by both the students and the community, I can tell that the video program is definitely going to be a long-term winner.”