Instead of working in the classroom one day last month, eight students from Memorial High School in West New York headed to the State House in Trenton to witness a voting session, discuss legislation, and interview Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. Oh, and they made a documentary in the process.
It was all part of the “Student Lens” initiative sponsored by Cablevision. The eight students, all participants in the media program at the high school, packed up their equipment and spent a busy day filming in the seat of government for the state of New Jersey.
“The kids use their media skills to conceive, edit, and share with their peers and communities.” –Jen Ostrager
Memorial High School and Cablevision
“Memorial High School has a pretty extensive media program,” said Alix Polynice, media coordinator specialist at Memorial High School. “We have a program with about 200 kids this year. We have a TV studio in the building and portable studio we take to events. We record any talent shows or plays in the school.”
The relationship with Cablevision goes back three or four years, according to Polynice, who teaches an independent study class called Project Media. “We have a show that airs on public access on Cablevision called Tiger TV. We pre-tape it and submit it to Cablevision. It’s a magazine format type program. Students create video projects covering events in school. They also create artistic short films.”
Due to their positive experience with the school, Cablevision approached Memorial High to participate in the Student Lens project.
“I’m very fortunate in my job,” said Ostrager. “I get to figure out how to use our company resources to give back to the community. What a great opportunity to take a school that we work very closely with, take the media students and let them experience a unique behind the scenes opportunity. The kids use their media skills to conceive, edit, and share with their peers and communities.”
A day in the State House
“We took a tour around the State House; they told us everything that goes on. It was very educational for our students,” said Polynice. “It all led to a private interview with the speaker in his office. We had a three-camera setup and we covered the whole interview. And we had a student who came up with some questions and gave a pretty great interview.”
“It was a great experience,” said Brenda Marrero, the 16-year-old junior who conceived the questions and conducted the on-camera interview. “It was very fast paced. I thought it would be more laid back. But once you got there the pressure was on. You didn’t have time to make that many mistakes.”
“I don’t think they realized how much access we would have,” said Polynice, who accompanied the students on the trip along with video production teacher Samantha Rodriguez. “I also don’t think they had an appreciation for the intensity, because time of was of the essence. It was a complete work day. We were shooting from the second we got off the bus till the second we got back on. From ten o’clock until quarter to two, non-stop, they kids didn’t get a chance to sit, carrying a bunch of video equipment around the statehouse.”
The eight students who participated were joined by Cablevision professionals for the taping. “I kind of picked the students who have been most active in our video club, plus based on some of the work that I’ve seen them do as far as their professionalism in the program,” said Polynice. “I would have picked more but I was told that I had to whittle down to a small group. I took as many as I could squeeze in.”
“I was kind of nervous but I was kind of okay,” said Marrero about her interviewing experience. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Marrero hopes to go into public relations when she graduates. “Not so much the politics side, more like Hollywood,” she said. “But it was really good to get this exposure.”
“I was extremely proud of the students,” said Polynice. “They did in incredible job. They were fabulous representatives of Memorial High School.”
“The students have to get together and log through all the footage and figure out what story they want to tell based upon the answers from the speaker, said Polynice. “They need to start editing down. The goal is we have to whittle a 20 minute interview to a 5-7 minute highlight reel.”
Once a first draft is created, it will go to Cablevision, where representatives will offer suggestions and insights.
Asked what she took away from the experience, Marrero said, “I learned how many things go through the speaker and about his day to day job and how he doesn’t have that much time. He tries to accommodate everyone. One thing he did mention is to get the cost of living in Jersey down, and the education college tuitions down.”
The video will air on Channel 18 before the end of the school year, as well as on the Cablevision web site.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.