Imagine the work of your students being adjudicated by professionals with industry expertise, and then making it possible for that work to be viewed by every student and teacher in your school, and even by strangers as far away as Thailand.

That’s exactly what happened recently as students and staff at Southold High School in New York celebrated the work of 13 individual school districts in the second annual Broadcast Awards for Senior High (BASH).

This program is both an awards celebration and a learning conference where students from various schools come together and not only compete for best submission in eight separate categories—including Best Anchor Team, Best Broadcast, and Best Public Service Announcement—but also attend breakout sessions where professional television executives, Emmy Award-winning journalists, and others share their expertise on topics such as the future of journalism, cinematography techniques, or how to engage the audience.

Origins of BASH

A few years ago, Southold Schools launched a television broadcasting program. It began with no money and virtually no equipment, but we had a strong desire to leverage advances in technology and to seek to meet the needs of learners who had grown up in a media-rich, digitized environment. With cellphones in hand (we had no money for video cameras when the program began), and after constructing a room within a room—we carved a small studio out of the tech/wood shop area as a proof of concept—SOHO TV (Southold Television) was born. Students began that first year in 2014–15 by “broadcasting” six episodes over the course of the school year. Fast-forward to June 2018, when the program generated about 34 weekly broadcasts.

The working premise was: If we build this room, create opportunities for students to broadcast a weekly news magazine, and post it on a Weebly website (which is linked to the school district website), we could tell the stories of our school community. The vision was to have students engage in authentic learning opportunities that would facilitate creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills.

Breaking Beyond School Walls

Little did we know in 2014 that the viewership of these weekly broadcasts would grow to an average of 700 viewers outside the school each week. We were excited to discover that grandmas and grandpas, alumni, and others tune in to see what’s happening inside the school. Some video stories (called “packages” in the industry) are very typical, including sports highlights from varsity teams and getting ready for prom or homecoming, while others branch out into more serious subjects such as bullying or suicide prevention public service announcements (PSAs). Teams of students also venture out to the larger community to create stories about local industries or civic programs such as the historical society’s work and preservation efforts.

When the Honor Society did its annual gleaning program—when the end-of-the-harvest season affords farmers an opportunity to give to the needy—students did a package to cover this news that took place beyond classroom walls. Then, the brief video package was shown to families at a recent National Honor Society induction ceremony as evidence of the community service performed by those being inducted. What a powerful way to share what our students are doing!

Authentic Engagement

When we talk about “real-world” learning and opportunities to have students learn by doing, the platform of broadcast media is filled with possibilities. Students work with their teacher advisers to learn about everything from script writing to editing skills, driven by the need to produce a finished product that is put on public display rather than simply entered into a grade book by the teacher. The work is peer-​reviewed by fellow students, a process in which a critical lens of feedback is sought on each weekly “episode.” This is exactly the process that camera people, journalists, news anchors, and media producers go through when they develop broadcasts for television.

These skills are transferable. Whenever we are involved in the production of something, we must learn how to navigate and negotiate the skills and talents of others on the production team—whether it’s designing a car or handling a medical issue to which the team of practitioners will be called upon to find solutions. Students leave this course better prepared to engage in this type of work and learning.

Standing on the ‘X’

When I first visited the students and teachers in SOHO TV while class was in session, I realized something was very different with what they were learning, and moreover, with how they were learning. I looked around, and students freely came in and out of the room, borrowing camera equipment and a microphone to cover a story. Some kids were busily editing video footage, while others were rehearsing for the upcoming broadcast.

Where was the teacher? Where were the textbooks, the whiteboard, or the front of the room, and rows of desks and chairs? This level of freedom and responsibility given over to the students was worth something. The decision-making and creative outlets warranted an opportunity for others to see what was taking place. It wasn’t long after my initial visit to this class that I invited outsiders to come and see what was happening.

I asked them to “stand on the X.” We literally spray painted an “X” on the floor where a visitor could stand and turn around full circle (360 degrees) to see a wide range of student engagement. Over time, I invited local elected officials, Board of Education trustees, senior citizens, and kindergarten teachers to bear witness to this unique learning environment that matched real-world engagement.

Highlighting the Whole School

We celebrate who we are, our passions, and our place in the learning community.

I recall seeing a package that told the story of one of our science teachers who described how to guess the age of one of the trees on the school property. This mini science lesson revealed to all of our students and staff this teacher’s knowledge, and they saw how it applied to that great big old beech tree about 100 years old.

There are segments that describe surprising hidden talents of staff and students, and other packages that call attention to the incredible work of our theater and music department as we preview upcoming concerts and shows. We can visit the elementary school science fair or be on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony or ribbon-cutting ceremony of newly renovated learning spaces.

All of these moments bring our community closer together—no longer are they isolated only to those in attendance.

Around election day, we have done segments that tell young adults in high school about the importance of voting. We have also provided a video that walks them through the voter registration process. We have even done a livestream, five-hour broadcast during the 2016 election. These episodes all speak to teaching about citizenship.

There are, however, larger lessons that we have a responsibility to teach—as both the producer and consumer of visual messages that are sent out daily on smartphones, posted on YouTube, and seen on TV.

Whether we are the sender of such images or members of the proverbial audience (alone at home, among friends, or with strangers), as the producer or consumer, we are part of a vast network of digital information and ideas. How we process this new level of citizenship responsibility will have a lasting effect on the well-being of our families, our communities, and our democratic institutions. We are all digital citizens of the 21st century.

Real World, Real Audiences, Real Results

Two years ago, we developed the awards celebration and learning conference called the Broadcast Awards for Senior High. BASH continues to grow as a way to showcase students’ work. (See sidebar above for more details).

From the perspective of a building principal, I think we should always contemplate ways to engage our students in real-world, authentic learning opportunities that are purposeful, stimulate high interest, and tap into the passions of our students. Broadcast media allows for the focus to be on music, the arts, sports, academic subject matter—anything that we encounter in our daily lives.

When learning is consequential in the lives of our students, it will have greater impact and be long-lasting. SOHO TV and our BASH celebration gives us a platform to engage in the real world, with real audiences and with real results.

David A. Gamberg is superintendent of schools in the Southold Union Free School District and the Greenport Union Free School District in New York.

Sidebar: A Winning Submission for BASH

One of the eight categories that Student TV Broadcast Programs submitted their work for was the overall “Best Broadcast” category. If one were to compare this to other awards programs such as the Academy Awards, this would be the equivalent of “Best Picture.” This year, the students and teacher-adviser at Greenport Schools submitted an 11-minute broadcast that was judged by a television executive using a standards-based rubric. The broadcast competed against eight other submissions.

The program at Greenport Schools is only three years old, and some of the schools that competed in this category were much larger (Greenport High School has 246 students in grades 9–12) with programs that have existed for more than 10 years. Students and staff at Greenport were ecstatic about the news that they won in this category. Lena Wolf, a senior at Greenport, commented, “I think all of the students involved in this course felt extremely proud of our accomplishment at winning in the Best Broadcast category.”

“Broadcast journalism has allowed students to activate parts of themselves, a skill set that maybe they never knew they had. When it is activated, it comes from a desire within themselves to produce art, because after all, broadcasting is an art form,” says teacher-adviser Luke Conti of the Greenport Student TV Broadcasting program. “When the desire comes from deep within, it just flows naturally, and I, as an educator, become a facilitator in that process. In many ways, I just get out of the way and let the freedom of expression come out. The culmination of that expression was rewarded with the Best Broadcast award, and I could not be more proud of the artists that helped us get there.”

The complete broadcast can be viewed here:

Recognition for the broadcast comes with a gold statue (much like an Oscar at the Academy Awards), which encourages the students to strive for future success at BASH. It is an authentic assessment that is meaningful for all students in the media-rich environment of our schools and communities.