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Using broadcasting to engage your school community

Every school day at 8am, 15 students report for duty at Cactus TV, the in-house broadcasting program at Glen Eden Intermediate School (GEIS) in Auckland. Together they work through the items for that morning’s news cast, ready to go live when the bell rings at 8.45am. Two students present the news while the others are on duty for research, vision mixing, sound, cameras, visuals, teleprompt, floor managing and directing. The students are eleven and 12 years old – and totally at ease with the running of a broadcasting studio.

It’s a set up that is featuring at an increasing number of schools around New Zealand. One of the more popular applications of video technology is daily news bulletins featuring sporting and cultural events and other activities from around the school.

The bulletins are usually filmed with a green screen backdrop which is digitally replaced in real time to look like they are sitting in a professional newsroom environment. The bulletins are streamed live to a secure web page that students are able to access with a username and password.

It is also popular for schools to film sporting events and stream them online for families and friends to watch live or on demand. It is now very easy and inexpensive to film with multiple cameras and switch between the different shots like you see on TV. You can even include simple on-screen graphics for live scoring and team branding. 

At GEIS, broadcasting is voluntary work, and it’s highly sought after – more than 400 applications for 100 places every six months. Students timetable themselves for duty using the online roster and, in general, take ownership of the show, says program leader Alan Diprose. He’s the school’s video production specialist and he set up Cactus 21 years ago. Under Mr Diprose’s guidance, the school has built up an impressive collection of technical equipment and recently won a $7,000 smart TV, first prize for their winning entry into the 2015 Fair Go school ad awards.

At Gencom, leading suppliers of broadcasting equipment, staff say that school pupils who are involved in a broadcasting program benefit in many ways.

“Creating TV is highly enjoyable for the students as the action happens in real time and the results of their efforts can be seen instantly,” says general manager David Barnard. “Film production requires teamwork and students benefit from learning to work together as a group in a cooperative way. Each job on-site is unique, and yet all jobs are equally important. As students rotate through the different roles from director to camera person, graphics operator, cable runner and talent, they’re gaining exposure and developing a broad set of skills. In working with the technical equipment, they gain computer and electrical skills in a fun and practical way, and putting the media spotlight on school activities compels the students to develop an active interest in what is going on around them and what others are doing.”

Which is exactly what is happening at GEIS. Year eight student Jessika Wanden-Hannay started a weekly sports section for the school broadcast to acknowledge student achievement. “It’s a way of recognising student success in and out of school, and it’s great to see the impact it has on the kids we feature. One boy told me that after he’d been on the show, he had kids going up to him to say ‘Congratulations’.”

The Cactus TV team won the 2015 Fair Go Schools' Ad Awards
The Cactus TV team won the 2015 Fair Go Schools’ Ad Awards

GEIS principal Maree Stavert says the biggest benefit of the program is in keeping all members of the 1029-student school in touch. “It’s about communication and building a sense of community. We have 33 classes and we all start the day with the same information about what is happening.”

News is broadcast each morning and there are feature slots depending on what’s happening in the school. For example, during Samoan Language Week, two students taught the whole school some Samoan culture and language. 

Mr Barnard says video technology is also a valuable tool for administration to improve communication and engagement with students, parents and faculty.

“Effective video production is a way to get students excited and engaged, and to give parents a view of what their child’s daily life is like. It’s also a self-fulfilling marketing tool. It offers a way to show off what’s exciting and different about a school and its stakeholders. It’s also a great teaching tool – not just for learning about video but for learning about anything. From recording guest lectures (or streaming them in from far away) to producing documentaries as class projects, video provides a new canvas for learning – and the best projects can be retained to help teach future students.”

Happily, the set up costs continue to fall. “While it was certainly possible to make high-quality video on a tight budget ten years ago, the quality and usefulness that can be achieved for the same price today is at a whole different level,” says Mr Barnard. “In 2006, an ‘entry-level’ set up would have been a standard definition handy cam and an iMac to edit on. Some basic graphics could have been done, but forget about green screen and forget about live. To build a TV studio with live switching, graphics and green screen would have cost $50,000 or more. Today you can get going with high definition video and live streaming around the school or out to the internet for a small fraction of that.”

Broadcasting equipment is much more affordable now than even a few years ago
Broadcasting equipment is much more affordable now than even a few years ago

Gencom supplies to schools throughout the country both directly and through re-sellers such as Sitech Systems. Sitech is currently working with one school in particular that has had a radio station for several years. “They do very well with it and in fact it is an integrated part of their learning process with regular broadcasts to the classrooms and community on some specialist language subjects,” says managing director Garry Leet. “The radio stations also do especially well when installed in low decile schools where they help students with their diction and confidence building. One principal from a low decile school confided that the radio station was the single best piece of equipment she had purchased in 15 years of being a principal.”

While the GEIS students pick up all sorts of skills in production and direction, technical skill is not a prerequisite for a place on Cactus. “I try to spread it around to include a mixture of abilities and also those students who need a boost in confidence,” says Mr Diprose. “Everyone looks out for everyone else and they feel like they’re part of something.”

“Student agency is a key value here,” says Ms Stavert. “Instead of being told, the students do the driving. They are making decisions for themselves and taking ownership of their learning.”

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