The Great Mandella…

…of life continues. What comes around, goes around. The above visual is from the McNair Fall Choir Concert – a poster to promote excellence for display in the library. Just can’t stay away from that place.

So here I am in my nth month of retirement and STILL trying to catch up with myself when I find myself once again leading students thru visual learning. Today it’s 4H photography, video, and poultry (don’t laugh please – I LOVE my chickens). The latter will most likely become subjects for the two former projects. Nothing cuter than a baby chick.

Today’s focus is just the basics – what do YOU expect to learn as well as intro the the camera and photo/video terms. Since we’re only meeting bout half a dozen times this year, they will have homework of sorts…but as usual, my 4H kiddos are motivated and want to be here. Let’s see how this goes…


We’ve been pranked…

There’s a lesson in everything.

Today some of the seniors at my high school decided to “prank” the campus. Roll out the TP and chickens – whoa! Chickens? Yeah. Chickens.

It’s that humdrum time of year before spring break but after the glory of winter break….kind of dull days with clouds and rain and everyone just slogging along.

So this elite group pulls a late night decorating gig – and they used the soft double-sided stuff.

Then before dawn they returned to hammer out their tag on the lawn with paper plates and plastic knives. The big old “2010.” Or class thereof.

And the final touch…six hens and a rooster penned in the middle of the quad. Needless to say, the administration was – tickled and laughing. Why? Well every student entering campus was smiling and laughing, thinking something had been pulled over the “Man’s” eyes. No one (or no critter) had been hurt and there was no real vandalism. Oh – and the perps volunteered to clean up their mess once the fun was over. Doesn’t get any better.

Yeah…I love my school and my kids.

Oh yeah – and the lesson. Always have a camera handy and don’t be afraid to get the shots. My video kids managed to get a brief story on the air using some stuff I grabbed on the way to class…the TPing, the front lawn logo and the chickens…

Editing the show…

This is the third in a series on getting a high school TV studio up and running for a daily program (in our case at McNair High School, it’s the Daily Bulletin).

If you have it all together, you may get your show together in one take – meaning you roll the open, cut between anchors, roll other tape segments and supers and close, committing all to tape in one take.

If you’re like me and still trying to work the crew up to the reality of the one-take show, you’ll need to add elements with editing.

And being as I’m in cash-starved California, iMovie and Macs are our game plan for the foreseeable future.

Now iMovie is an okay program – in fact for apps like a simple show, it is perfect. No tiny edits…just add in elements. Since we do NOT have enough computers, I allow students to use my personal laptop with supplemental hard drive…but 99% of the time we are out of time once the show is taped, so I’m on my own at home putting in the finishing touches.

To break the monotony of the very recognizable templates of iMovie, I got some plug-ins through a company called GeeThree. They make plug-ins for transitions, titles, FX for iMovie, called Slick.

The Slick packages are all different…but the one I found works best for my purposes is the Filmmaker Kit. It has a combination of FX from a variety of the packages and I’m not sure if they even sell it anymore…but is based on volumes four and five.

What I found most useful: in titling I use Sidebar (allows video to run with credits on the side), Place Text (can put your text anywhere on the screen), Pic-In-Pic (run video in a small box over a full-screen video), and VidMix (in effect greenscreen, but you can key on any color, not just green). Three are also countdowns aka academy leaders and the ability to do some audio tuning.

But even without plug-ins, iMovie (or MovieMaker) can do a commendable basic job. In fact during my final year as a TV news photog I ran daily news stories through iMovie and microwaved to the main station – the stories made air and also made all of the main office photogs jealous cause I could do more in the way of transitions/effects than they could with their plain ole linear systems.

And here’s what the studio looks like!

Got the anchor desk hauled into the studio this weekend (love you Ron and Lexi for working in 100+ degree heat to haul that monolith) and went in this morning to snap some shots.

If you want a closer view, just click on the individual photos.

Word of explanation – for the past three years I’ve taught broadcasting in “almost a studio.” It had the configuration, but I was also teaching English – which mean more than half of the room had desks, blocking off any ability to really do studio work. This year my English class is moving to another room, so the studio for the first time is dedicated to what it was meant for.

This past year the light grid was installed – and there it sat. I don’t have a variety of lights – just three 1K Arris, two of which were mounted by Theater Manager Brian Harrower last week. Big improvement – we can use the controls to light up and dim down AND no more potential disasters waiting to happen with power cords running all over the room.

My buddy Kathy Newell pointed out that TV station controls rooms do NOT look out over the studio…many times they are located elsewhere in the building. The response is – hey, I’m a teacher and have to maintain a visual on the kids. Besides, it kinda looks neat.

The anchor desk – formerly known as a store fixture – bought from the local Gottshalks, which is going out of business. Five by five foot platform with a four foot high desk. Just enough room for two anchors. It will be painted (most likely a neutral grey) before school starts. Oh – it has wheels, so we can roll it to any location we want in studio.

The hole in the wall!! I’m still excited about it. Just some corrogated plastic pipe and a couple of toilet mount fixtures. About five inches wide (I think). Mounted right below my monitors in the control room.

And the student comments and 48HFP (48 Hour Film Project) musings on the board…this is what happens when students are no longer learners but part of a team under deadline. I didn’t even really see these until I returned to the classroom the Monday after the event. Made me want to cry….

Hole In the Wall!!!!!

Life is GOOD.

In the past few days something in the universe clicked and said, “Let’s be kind to Cyndy.”

Yesterday I went into my TV studio at McNair High School and the district techies were meeting with the contractor who is wiring me up so we can send a signal campus-wide for daily bulletin. Been waiting two years for this to happen.

Then Brian Harrower, our theater manager, came in and hung two of my 1K Arris on the light grid and hooked up to the lighting control panel.

In the meantime I’d pulled all of the equipment and cables out of the control room and was cleaning and setting things up in a more organized manner for school this year…buddy Kathy Newell was down helping and she figured out that the Focus Enhancement MX-4 switcher was NOT broken…the kids had just punched about every special effect they could and it took her more than half an hour to sequence through everything to reset it.

Finally – and this is big – I went in this afternoon and THERE WAS A HOLE IN THE CONTROL ROOM WALL!!!

Another battle won! Steve, the contractor with Bright Wire Corp had gotten the OK to cut a hole and fit it so I have a place to run cables from control room to studio. Up until now we’re been propping the door and running cables thru it. Not practical cause noise comes out of the CR and there’s always the danger of cables getting clipped if the door shuts.

So this year Ronald E. McNair High School starts the year with a fully functional, professional control room and studio.

Oh – and the final Whoopeee is I won’t have to teach English or non-broadcasting classes out of the studio, as I have the past two years. Explained to my principal that would entail spending half of each broadcast class dragging desks/furniture out of the way and back so we’d have room to do studio work. He said check with the VP, but he was okay with me teaching one class in a real classroom.

And Newell and I are heading to the hills for a couple more days of girl time with cameras before I settle back into my role as mom/wife/teacher.

Once again, life is sweet.

Damn the torpedos – full script ahead!


The “damn” above doesn’t refer to sending out bombs. In the case of my broadcasting students it refers to not creating them. Don’t create a script that I can’t read and is merely words on paper. Dammit. I want a real script.

Right now the advanced students are struggling (once again) with two column scripts. If they had their druthers, they’d just sit down and edit. I want them to learn organization….which will lead to more critical thinking and in the end a better script and story.

For more than a month we’ve been working around a story I call “Ground Zero,” about how the real estate meltdown has affect our community and school. Students had a press conference and interviewed the president of the local Board of Realtors. A retired TV reporter came in and talked about the thought process of finding information and interviews for a story. Students shot B-roll in their neighborhoods and interviewed students on campus.

All of this happening around other assignments (in the real world you don’t just do one thing at a time).

And now the reality check – scripts are due tomorrow. Four out of ten students either have them done or are close. A fifth showed me his script yesterday. It was a list: narration, interview, photos, narration. That was pretty much it. Literally. Those were the four words he wrote on his script.

So today I once again review scripting. The left column is what we see. The right column is what we hear. You must have visuals to cover everything you hear. There is a slim third column to the far right if you want to time out your narrations and interview segments since the story must run between 1:30 and 4:00. No music – this is a news story.

Scripts must include either a transcribed interview or the start and end time of the interview segment. They must end with a tag out using our school sign-off (For EagleVison News, I’m ——).

I suspect much of the problem is, while we use the two column script all term, I don’t drill them on it. That will change next year. Full immersion is the answer.

On the other hand, my beginning class finally gets storyboarding. Words and pictures. You don’t have to be an artist – but I do want to see whether you are calling for a close-up or wide shot. They’re working on their sixty second commercials right now and I see some zingers.

Time to go deep down again…only twelve days til the end of the school year and I can resume blogging in a more consistent manner.

Ground Zero is my home…

Blame it on Sixty Minutes – the label stuck. Stockton is Ground Zero in the US real estate meltdown. More specifically, zip code 95210. That’s my school – my kids.

So what better way to get them into working on a news story than making personal. When I first introduced the concept, most of the class said, who cares. Until one of my quiet sophomores spoke up and said he might be losing his home. Silence.

Then a little bit of talk about…maybe we all know someone who might be losing or have lost their home.

Thus began the assignment. With an idea.

This past Thursday I got them into the terminology of the story. Mortgages. Interest rates. Prime and sub prime. Borrower, lender, equity. Their questions revealed both their interest and lack of knowledge of real estate transactions – and this was what I fully expected. How many of YOU knew it all at ages 15-17?

Thanks to this site I was able to get some good solid information to prep the students.

Then it was off to Google Land to find and print images of homes…from the high and mighty to trailer trash. I wrote three years/prices on each photo. Year 2000 and an estimated price for the real estate; year 2004 and a high price for the real estate; year 2008 and a very low price reflecting the decline in real estate prices.

We drew names and each student got to choose a piece of property. Then they each drew a purchase year. The lucky ones got the 2000 price. The unlucky ones drew the 2004 price. They then compared their purchase price with the estimated current price.

My point: I wanted them to understand how random this could be. Told them that some folks were speculating (had to explain yet another term) and flipping houses for profit, while many homes were bought by people who just wanted a home. Nobody knew a collapse was coming.

They get it now – or at least the basics.

The rest of the assignment will take place over the next few weeks. This past week and over this weekend I sent cameras home with each student with instructions to shoot homes in their neighborhood, focusing on homes for sale if possible. Five minutes of video (variety of shots; each at least ten seconds long) or 20 still shots. This is our pool of raw cover video.

Sidebar: after the first group of students sallied forth into their neighborhoods and returned to class the next day, we had an impromptu lesson on media rights. One student who lives in a fairly nice, close-knit neighborhood where everyone knows each other, was threatened and told NOT to shoot pictures of the neighborhood. Apparent fear of break-ins by the adults. So I got to explain media rights – they cannot prevent you from shooting if you are on public property. And then common sense. Don’t argue at your age – walk off. It isn’t worth the trouble. What I might do as a professional does not apply to you as a student – especially for a simple assignment like this.

This coming week we will have speakers. The San Joaquin Board of Realtors is sending a speaker for a “press conference” on Thursday. The students will learn press conference protocol Monday so they can properly question their guest.

Former KOVR reporter Craig Prosser will visit later in the week and discuss how to cover a story like this (I had him slotted for Monday, but he had to bail).

Friday the McNair counseling department will send a counselor to discuss how traumatic this might be to students as well as how it affects the school itself. We’ve lost several hundred students who have been forced to move because they lost their homes…and this dominos into losing staff.

Final piece of the puzzle – each student will find and interview a student on campus on the topic.

Then it is on to logging, scripting, and editing.

I honestly wish I could post examples of student work on the blog – but like many educators, my hands are tied by a very restrictive district policy regarding student work on the Internet.

After the meeting…

Last night my school board (Lodi Unified School District) was set to vote on cutting voted to cut 390 teacher jobs in order to save the district from bankruptcy. I would guess that’s about 20% of the teachers in the district.

Feelings ran high as hundreds of parents, students and district employees packed the auditorium at Ronald E. McNair High School. Over a two hour period, dozens addressed the board with pleas to save both specific programs and the integrity of their schools. There was a sense of hope – initially – which left as the auditorium emptied and only the board and a few dozen die-hards remained, waiting for the inevitable.

My daughter Alexis and I gave it up at 11:50, leaving as the board debated the legal effects of adding additional district jobs and administrative jobs to the list.

But by that time they had already made their intentions clear…each board member pleading with the public to understand their position and their two choices: make the cuts or have the district go bankrupt and the state take over operations.

Neither was a choice anyone wanted to hear.

The only hope is now pinned on what happens over the few months. On March 15 pink slips WILL go out to the 390 teachers…and possibly more from other fields. Between March and May 15 the board may be able to find alternative ways to save both money and jobs. (Some strong possibilities, if they are willing to be bold, are changing the school year calendar and working with the union for furloughs.)

I’m not sure where I am on the seniority list and won’t know until this Friday at the earliest. I know I will be getting a pink slip, as will an estimated 75% of the teachers at McNair. We have the youngest, brightest, and newest staff members in the district. I know students cried last night in their speeches, hugging each other for support, as they held out hope for their futures. I know it will not be pretty and I also know that the board, faced with the impossible, made the only choice they could at the time. And I hold this out for both students and staff – keep hope alive.

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