Gracie Cooper, center, acts as technical director of the UPTV morning broadcast in the control room as students Robbie Jenkins, left, and Eleanor King take care of the sound and picture for the program.
As the countdown to air begins, Rachael Keeney sits calmly in the anchor chair in front of the green screen. Fueled by caffeine and a dose of adrenaline, she succinctly delivers the news on UPTV to several hundred of her peers.
It is an experience she wouldn’t trade for the world.
“This has sparked a whole new interest for me,” the senior said of broadcast journalism. “I love being an anchor and I know a lot of people love it. You hear them saying, ‘Oh, I missed the news this morning!’ It’s neat to see how everything works together for a newscast.”
Keeney and about 15 other juniors and seniors are a part of UPTV, a news production that is the work of English Department Chair Ernie Quatrani at Upper Perkiomen High School. While Quatrani had to wait three decades to make the project a reality, he said thanks to the efforts of principal Dr. Bill Shirk and a $15,000 Comcast grant from Red Hill borough, UPTV is now up and running.
UPTV launches around 6:30 each morning, when many students are just dragging themselves out of bed, and ends before first period starts. Students volunteer their time.
As part of the program, which will celebrate its first birthday in January, the team develops about a five-minute piece each day highlighting national news, high school sports and events, announcements, local weather and the school’s lunch menu.
Each broadcast, however, is unique. Following an intro montage of students around the high school and greeting amid a virtual set, the program’s main topic can vary. Monday’s UPTV focused on the general election and a short educational piece on the electoral college. Danielle Hawthorne, an English teacher, read a poem she authored on politics and voting, which was illustrated with student-edited graphics.
Following a list and photos of the Halloween costume contest winners, the show also had a high school sports report with a schedule “crawling” across the top of upcoming games and, after the credits, rolled announcements not covered in the main program.
The program is recorded and posted on Safari Montage, a video site similar to YouTube for educators. It is then projected onto each classroom’s SMART Board and the large-screen screens in the cafeteria for students and staff.
UPTV is popular among students,in the 14-18 age bracket, who are oftentimes indifferent to regular newscasts. The new program has been met with a lot more interest than its predecessor, the decades-old practice of announcements over the school’s public system, school officials said.
And it’s also beloved by those who put so much time and talent into making it happen each morning. While Quatrani largely chooses the topics and writes the scripts, students have a lot of input and are responsible for multiple aspects, including some writing and learning each role from the behind-the-scenes technical controls to supervising the floor.
Senior Alyssa Kratz said she thinks UPTV has its challenges like learning the ins and outs of equipment, such as the tri-caster, and how to speak at the right pace and deliver the news in an interesting way no matter the topic.
“It’s a very good opportunity for me and it’s good for the school though,” she said. “You get to see the news from your peers, there are more graphics and it’s more interesting.”
Juniors Gracie Cooper and Eleanor King agreed they are getting valuable experience at UPTV in their chosen career field.
“This place is kind of like an oasis,” Cooper said. “You can experiment with things, especially being in the control room, and your ideas.”
“There are a lot of creative ideas and talent here,” Quatrani, UPTV’s advisor, noted. “A couple of the original staff and seniors have taken up radio and TV…We’re taking baby steps but it’s going well.”
And Quatrani hopes to continue moving forward with the program.
“We’re still growing. We would like to start developing more original content and we’re urging the kids to come up with ideas. We want to do more things like sports interviews and pieces like our “Weigh-Ins” with Tom Hontz and Vince Leskusky, where each one takes a side of an issue…We want to go more mobile too.”
UPTV may also be able to expand with additional funding through a Wells Fargo community arts and education grant they are pursuing through Red Hill borough. The grant they are seeking could award them funding for additional equipment and education; money that would be well spent, students said.