Saugerties High School gets a television studio

(Photo by Mookie Forcella)

(Photo by Mookie Forcella)

After years of preparation and fundraising, Saugerties High School is days away from launching its brand new media production center – a project that has been cooking for four years. “We actually just connected the last cord today,” says Scott Wickham.

Wickham, a teacher at Saugerties High School, always had cameras, but mostly did single-shot work with students. It was his idea to create a small TV studio; essentially a room for editing and multimedia education. Wickham was joined in the project by Nigel Redman, vice president of Markertek, and Paul Van Schaack, a special systems engineer at IBM. The two had previously built Saugerties’ local cable access facility.

The plan started out without any major aspirations – just a space to foster student interest in media production – but the plans snowballed quickly. Redman, Van Schaack, and Wickham decided that they wanted to pull together a fully functioning, expansive television and multimedia center. “The original scope was small, but that rapidly changed. It became ‘You know what? Let’s build them a real studio, with all the real feels, sounds, looks, and smells of a real TV studio, so that they have a real feel for it, instead of just playing around.’”

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No school money was used on the studio; most of the cost was paid through student fundraising in the form of Lip Sync competitions, as well as grants and more than a few technology donations from Van Schaack’s and Redman’s corporate allies. Certain parts had to be cobbled together out of secondhand spare parts from charitable media outlets. “It was all volunteer work,” says Van Schaack; “The number of man hours we put in is… uncountable. Try every summer and weekend for three years.”

“Between coordinating funding and doing the work, it probably took us two and a half years to put this together, beyond the computer aspect,” says Redman.

The result of the trio’s labor of love? One of the most unique multimedia labs in any area high school. While several local high schools have television production centers, none are constructed to build educational platforms in the multimedia business. As opposed to a set, some cameras, and a few computers to work from – the standard set up for a high school media center – Saugerties High School’s media center is replete with several different specific work stations to accommodate students interested in different aspects of media production. Not everyone has the presence of an anchor or the ear to mix audio, but with many different options, including audio, video, prompter, media library, media asset management, staging, directing and talent, no Saugerties High student participating in the program will be pigeonholed into an aspect of media production that they’re not interested in.

“The challenge for Scott and Jackie (Hayes), who run the program, is to be able to create a program that will cover all of that. That’s the next step,” says Redman.

“The studio has created quite a buzz around the school,” says Wickham, who will be launching his television production program in the studio after Regents week. Over 60 televisions are being hung around the school.

“A lot of students who were leaving the course were excited about the studio. They kept asking ‘Is the studio ready yet? Is the studio ready yet?’ A lot of them were a little disappointed that they didn’t get to use it while they were here,” said Van Schaack.

Saugerties High has some interesting ideas, outside of the morning announcements, on how to use its new studio. One of these ideas is to use the closed circuit television system, which will connect with local channel 23 and be viewable to most of Saugerties, as a sort of distress signal in case of a school emergency to immediately alert parents of a crisis or school lockdown.

On a less morbid note, Wickham would also like to use the production center to broadcast school events, from plays to graduations and, eventually, online through a streaming service that he hopes to establish in the program’s near future.

The media production center is also interested in broadcasting pre-recorded review sessions for finals and AP exams for students who are unable to attend due to prior engagements, illness, or the ever-present after-school-review attendance killer, commitment to student athletics. “It comes from Mrs. Bishop, who was the world’s greatest science teacher,” says teacher Jackie Hayes. “She would hold review sessions and the students would sign up to go because she was just such a good teacher. So we thought, why not film this and put it on channel 23?”

Saugerties High seems to have some grand plans and high concepts for its recently actualized media production dream. Tune into channel 23 in the coming months to see how they fare in their inaugural season.

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