The AV Tech lab at North Springs Charter High School crackled with creative energy on a recent afternoon as students produced stories for their biweekly news show.
Arnardo Vargas, 18, worked on an intro and ending for his video featuring the school’s Spartans football players. Seniors Jaylan McDonald and Paris Talbert searched apps for “positive” background music for their New Teacher segment.
Senior Matan Berman spliced video for his feature, “Stereotypical Students,” and Amari Mosby, 16, searched among the six editing rooms for equipment to film an interview about last spring’s school trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
Local high schools increasingly are becoming broadcasting and filmmaking breeding grounds in a state with a booming film industry.
Students are live streaming assemblies, plays, holiday pageants and concerts and producing features that will be emailed, played on closed circuit television systems, or posted on Facebook, YouTube channels, school websites and streaming networks.
Relatives can get great views of graduations from across the country. (Check out The Westminster Schools’ 2016 graduation on YouTube.)
Parents don’t have to agonize over missing their kids’ sporting events. They can watch them on their phones.
Westminster sophomore Turner Cravens knows first-hand how parents rely on WCAT, the school’s student-run online TV station. He recalled dealing with a dad who was worried about whether the station definitely was going to cover a basketball game he couldn’t attend.
“He texted me constantly the week of the game to make sure things were going smoothly,” said Turner, who helps edit news and football footage for WCAT and wants to become a producer someday.
‘It’s a group of kids learning on the job’
Nearly 10 percent of North Springs’ 1,600 students are enrolled in the school’s three-year Audio-Video Technology & Film Pathway.
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School has enrolled a record number of students in its Upper School Film and Broadcast Production Program.
Holy Innocents’ film teacher Joe Conway, a screenwriter and actor, said he believes the word is out that there’s a “terrific” program at the school.
“And I believe parents are starting to see the value in letting their children pursue their artistic passions in high school instead of simply encouraging them to load up on AP classes in the hopes of impressing some college admissions officer,” he said in an email.
It definitely can’t be grades that are driving the WCAT staff at Westminster. Broadcasting is an extracurricular activity at Westminster, not an academic program.
Faculty advisor, Daniel Searl, who has worked in the field, said WCAT’s students are “sharp, they’re motivated, and they find solutions.”
“It’s a group of kids learning on the job, literally, and teaching each other, and doing it on their own time, after school, during free periods, at 11:30 on Friday nights, because they want to and because they enjoy it,” he said.
WCAT has won eight first-place Southeast Emmy High School Student Production Awards since 2014 and was named “Best Overall School Broadcast Program” in the country by the NFHS Network last school year.
NFHS provides a broadcast platform (NFHSnetwork.com) for more than 1,000 schools in the U.S., including more than 100 from Georgia, according to Mark Rothberg, vice president of the network’s School Broadcast Program.
In addition to Westminster, the NFHS Network lists Marist, Holy Innocents’, Mount Vernon Presbyterian, North Atlanta and Riverwood high schools among its participating schools. The network also features state playoff and championship events and has contracted with WCAT to cover events for the site.
‘I feel like a celebrity’
WCAT typically staffs events such as Westminster football games with 15 to 20 students.
Technical director William Turton, a junior, coordinates all live coverage, making sure events are properly staffed by properly equipped personnel.
The experience has been “rewarding,” he said. “You get a great group of students together. We’ll have a good broadcast. Then we’ll go to dinner afterward.”
William was part of a WCAT crew of nine students who traveled to Dublin, Ireland, last September to cover three high school football games for the NFHS Network and to cover the Georgia Tech-Boston College game for College Football Ireland.
Holy Innocents’ is also making an impression beyond Atlanta. Its students took ninth place last year in the Broadcast category of the National Scholastic Press Association’s Best of Show awards.
Their teacher, James Jackson, is a 2003 Holy Innocents’ graduate who has worked in broadcasting.
Keeping up with the industry’s ever-changing technologies and techniques fosters a “symbiotic” student-teacher relationship, Jackson said. He encourages his students to reach beyond their own “school bubbles” to pursue local, metro and national topics.
Hollis Brecher, 17, executive producer of Holy Innocents’ weekly online newscast WHIS, said she’s learned how to conduct interviews and ask tough questions. Anchoring the news show “is the coolest thing to me,” she said. “I feel like a celebrity.”
She’s currently working on an attention-getting story about student diversity at her school.
Holy Innocents’ student filmmakers attract attention every spring with their red carpet Holy Innocents’ Film Festival at Lefont Theaters in Sandy Springs, which Conway said has quickly grown in size and reputation.
‘Film is a tedious thing’
North Springs’ AV teacher Aldo Bacallao enhanced his skills this summer in a two-week Georgia Film Academy training program at Fayette County’s Pinewood Atlanta Studios. He also took students to a weeklong student television network convention in California last spring.
Some of his students are already dabbling in professional environments.
Junior Logan Thompson, who wants to become a screenwriter, just snagged a gig shadowing a movie director on set.
She can be seen on the Sandy Springs Police Department’s Facebook page in a dramatic Feb. 24 public service announcement she and fellow students produced to help the police combat car break-ins. It’s gotten 10,000 views.
Amari, who produced the story on the students’ trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, began a mentorship last year with the local nonprofit group, Movie Maker Mentors. “Film is a tedious thing,” Amari said, “but it’s the kind of stress I want in my life.”
Prepping for her interview with freshman Hanna Quillen in a North Springs hallway, Amari positioned her camera, adjusted sound levels and calmly handled some technical difficulties — a full SD [memory] card and a non-working mic. “Typical,” she said.
“What did you get out of this trip?” she asked her subject. “Did anything unexpected happen? Do you have any inside jokes you want to share?”
Hanna spoke of the beautiful landscapes and “amazing” architecture she saw. With a deep-dimpled smile she said she has some jokes, “But I’m not really going to share them.”
One more question, and it was a wrap. Amari disconnected the mic and turned off her camera.
“Thank you,” she said to Hanna. “You did great, kid.”
–Donna Williams Lewis