Community Spotlight: Secaucus High School's Media Academy

By Staff Writer, Posted 01-21-2020
Unbeknownst to most residents, Secaucus actually has its own local newscast. It airs regularly on Comcast's Channel 34, a local station used by the Secaucus School District. Surprisingly, this newscast is made entirely by Secaucus High School's students as they report on news and events within the Secaucus public school system. It is all part of the Broadcast Live course offered at the Secaucus High School's Media and Communications Academy.

Besides offering a well rounded general curriculum, the Secaucus High School also has two specialized academies that not many people are aware of. They are the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Academy and the Media and Communications Academy. These academies offer specialized programs for students interested in those subjects. Earlier this week, Debra Gerbasio, the program coordinator for the Media Academy, was kind enough to provide more information about the program as well as give me a tour of the facilities.

The Media Academy's curriculum includes the courses Journalism, Understanding Film, Public Speaking, Video Production I, Video Production II, Editing, Advanced Filmmaking, and Broadcast Live. These are taken as elective classes in addition to core subjects such as math, english, and science. Through these courses, students learn:
•  the fundamentals of copy writing and self-expression
•  the effects of visual media and the different components of television production
•  the techniques and processes used in filmmaking
•  videography through hands on usage of professional video and audio equipment
•  advanced concepts for camera-work, audio production, and digital editing
Then, once students have a good grasp of the material, they get the chance to put all those skills together as they create the newscasts which air on Comcast Channel 34. (An archive of the broadcasts can be found here.)

A new newscast is produced approximately every 2 weeks, and students handle all aspects of these broadcasts in their entirety. They write the news stories, read them on-air, film the segments, handle the directing, and edit the productions. Each student gets a chance to gain valuable hands-on experience in each phase of the process as they rotate responsibilities with each newscast. Their news stories feature happenings in the Secaucus School District, and they range from elementary school events all the way to high school sports. According to Gerbasio, there are currently plans to expand these newscasts to include additional segments such as the weather and even on-air interviews.

All filming currently occurs in the Media Center Studio within the high school. The facility was just recently renovated, and it provides students with access to high-end video and audio equipment including cameras, light panels, and sound mixers. Corresponding videograpy software such as TriCaster Studio as well as industry standard applications like Final Cut are also made available. The studio even had a new green screen installed as part of the renovation, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek of how it can be utilized. By superimposing the newscasters onto various backgrounds, the program can now be broadcasted from different virtual sets. Not only does this make the broadcasts seem much more professional, it also opens up new possibilities for the types of stories that can be covered since different footage can now be easily embedded in the background.

Any student at the high school is welcomed to take one of the elementary courses provided by the Media Academy as an elective. However, if a student wishes to formally enroll into the program, there is a separate application process. Once accepted, students who complete the program are then certified as official academy graduates. Students just have to maintain a 2.0 GPA to stay in the program. Gerbasio recommends any interested students to apply for the program during their freshman year. That way, there will be sufficient time to complete all the course work necessary. Of course, anyone interested should consult with the school's guidance counselor for more information.

Like most people in Secaucus, I didn't know about the existence of the Channel 34 newscasts. Who knew that my research on the subject would cause me to see Secaucus High School in a whole new light. Within the span of a week, I went from thinking that the school didn't offer any special programs to being impressed with its Media and Communications Academy. And with the recent improvements to the Media Center Studio, I can only imagine that the program will continue to grow and improve. So for any young men and women in Secaucus who are interested in the filmmaking industry, I would highly recommend taking a look into the Media Academy. It offers a comprehensive program with plenty of hands-on exposure and real world applications.
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