The 'future of learning' on display at Avon Grove High School
By Steven Hoffman
Jake Zebley stood in the middle of a room filled with more than two dozen television monitors, each one playing an event that was livestreamed by AGtv, and talked about his career aspirations. The Avon Grove High School junior wants to work behind the scenes in television production one day. He has the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of television production as a result of a state-of-the-art television studio at his school.
“I can’t even put into words how much this has helped me,” Zebley explained as Avon Grove High School officially unveiled its $125,000 studio—which was constructed entirely by students, teachers, and maintenance staff—on April 26.
Avon Grove High School principal Scott DeShong said that AGtv is “the future of learning.”
The AGtv studio space is situated in the school’s over-sized traditional library, and utilizes space that was previously a computer lab. The modern digital studio includes new instructional space, mobile broadcast production space and digital control space for AGtv. The studio, which includes news desk and green screen areas, is now broadcasting daily.
“This project takes us from a studio on a mobile cart to a fully functional digital AGtv studio where students can take a variety of new elective offerings including TV production, gaming and coding,” explained Gary Mattei, the district's technology director. “It’s been a great experience for our students and the community.”
“The new space and equipment will allow our students to take their skills to an entirely new level,” said Clint Jones, a technology education teacher who serves as executive producer and director of AGtv. His student crew shoots video, edits content, adds graphics, and even broadcasts live events like the daily announcements, school assemblies, and sports events.
“We also hope we’ll be able to provide valuable programming for our community,” Jones said. “And, regardless of whether our students choose video and television as a career path, the skills they are learning translate to so many aspects of 21st Century work life.”
School officials talked about how the new studio and the educational opportunities that it grants to students arose out of very modest beginnings.
“This whole program started years ago in a closet,” Jones explained. “That closet, as humble as it was, produced Nick Ciletti, a morning news anchor for 15 ABC in Phoenix. We had humble beginnings, but we kept building.”
According to district officials, Avon Grove students were very inspired by the ideas that they got during tours of 6ABC in Philadelphia. After meeting with Rick Williams, Karen Rogers, David Murphy Adam Joseph, Cicely Tynan, Shirleen Allicot, and Brian Taff, the students were inspired and wanted to create a new studio that would serve Avon Grove High School and the local community.
It took a considerable amount of cooperation and work to achieve the goal. The district purchased materials from local vendors like Oxford Feed and Lumber and Tague Lumber. Technology education teachers Matt Ricketts and Chris Herrman and the district maintenance staff worked with students to complete the framing, wiring, insulating, drywall, painting and finishing necessary to complete the television studio.
“This saved us thousands of dollars and was a valuable learning experience for students,” said Avon Grove superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese.
Approximately 100 students have been involved with the television studio in one capacity or another. A core group of about 30 students serve as directors, producers, graphics directors, and camera people.
Students like Brett Iannucci learn skills that will be helpful to them in college and beyond. Iannucci wants a career in audio engineering or radio production, and he said that he has learned a lot while working in the television studio.
Zebley explained that the students decide who performs what functions during the recording of an event.
“We really just fall into our positions,” Zebley explained. “Certain people like working with the cameras more, so we put them on that.”
As Zebley took people on tours of the new television studio, he sounded like a quarterback talking about his team's offensive game plan. Or, more accurately, he sounded like an executive producer explaining how the magic happens on a television show.
The students are trying their hands at a wide range of programming. They deliver news and weather during the morning announcements. The students have filmed commercials to advertise upcoming events like fundraisers. Zebley explained that the first event that AGtv livestreamed was a mock crash event for students. A television crew livestreamed the Homecoming football game in October of 2015. They’ve since worked on a wide variety of sporting events.
“We try to get a good representation of all the sports,” Zebley explained.
The students have even used a drone to film some of the outdoor action for the broadcasts.
Jones said that Zebley deserves a lot of credit for always seeking out new possibilities for the students who are working in the television studio.
“I just want us to improve day by day,” Zebley explained. “We’ve been finding tiny improvements and making it better day by day.”
AGtv broadcasts online in a LiveStream and VOD (video-on-demand) format on Avon Grove’s new website at www.avongrove.org. The online broadcasts have earned 60,000 unique hits and has reached the students’ friends and families as far away as The Netherlands, Guatemala, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia.
Parents have been very enthusiastic about the new educational opportunities that are available to students as a result of the television studio.
Colette Bright, whose son, Mark, is involved with the television studio, said, “It’s fantastic that they have this opportunity in high school. Avon Grove is very good about giving students all these different opportunities.
Many people at the studio's unveiling had an enthusiastic response to the work that the students are doing.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed by what I’ve seen so far,” said Brian Gaerity, the vice president of the Avon Grove School Board as he toured the studio.
Marchese said that the television studio is a good illustration of the kind of educational opportunities that the administration and school board have been trying to provide to students. Over the last three years, the district has invested heavily in technology initiatives, staffing, and training for the staff to boost academic achievement throughout the district.
“This is a STEM effort that really captures what we’re trying to accomplish,” Marchese said. “It is student-based and teacher-facilitated, and it allows students to take ownership of their learning. The school board has invested a lot of funds for technology. The community has supported the expenditures. It’s really exciting. This has turned out to be a wonderful finished product.”