It’s a little after the start of first period at Central High School, and students in Jeff Manders’ class are preparing to scatter throughout the school to get video footage and track down guests for the morning’s broadcast.
“Should we do something on Bandtasia?” Manders asks, referring to an upcoming musical performance. “Can we get some guests?”
“I’m in Bandtasia,” pipes up one student. “I could swing down and see if there’s anyone who can come.”
“Go do that right now,” Manders says, hitching his thumb toward the classroom door.
Meanwhile, seniors James McDonald, Hayden McCarthy and Ben Hatley are gathering equipment to film portions of a “creative piece,” as James calls it, “about a monkey raiding the cafeteria for bananas, and basically a school enforcement officer hires a detective to solve the case.”
Its journalistic qualities are, admittedly, somewhat in question.
“We’re pretty confident we can do a good job with it, but Manders thinks it’s going to turn out stupid,” James says.Adds Hayden: “We’re trying to prove him wrong.”
Back in Manders’ classroom, two girls are busily editing interviews for a piece on senior skip days, while across the room four boys are bobbing their heads in time with a 17-year-old pop song they are considering for a Halloween-themed piece.
Junior Matt Wilson is in his second year in the class. His older sister recommended it. Now he’s considering a career in cinematography.
“I found I have a passion for it,” Matt said. “I do have a good bit of creativity, so why not use that in a career if you can?”
“Media is their world now,” Manders said. “They’re filming and uploading and taking photos every day. What I really love is being able to take those basic skills and teach them to plan a broader message, how to edit, what it’s like to work in teams and to tell good stories.”
Twice every school day, Manders’ Producing, Filming and Broadcasting class airs two- to five-minute live shows that air on televisions and projector screens throughout the building. More than 50 students are currently enrolled in two class periods — the largest number in the class’ history.
Students can take the class their sophomore, junior and senior years after completing Media Communications. Both are taught by Manders.
“In the first class we talk about becoming media literate,” Manders said. “I remind them that all media comes from a certain source, who are creating stories for a reason, and just to be mindful of that.”
The class, which the students have dubbed “FX” (Forest eXposure), has been going on since at least the early ’90s, if not earlier. Teacher Ann Layton started the program and Manders, who was her student teacher at the time, took it on after she retired in 2010. Both Eastern and Northern high schools also have broadcasting programs.
Manders’ background in television broadcasting began at WILX Channel 10 in Lansing, while he was a student at Michigan State University. He also did camera work for WOOD TV8.
Manders got hooked on the profession while a senior at Zeeland High School, when he signed up for that school’s first-ever media class. He had already selected a college major — engineering — and switched to broadcasting within his first couple months, he said.
When he and his wife started a family, Manders went back to college for a teaching degree. Combining the two has been his dream job.
“My goal was to get into a school and to do exactly what I’m doing here,” he said. “I come to work excited every morning. Every morning.”
Quiet on the Set
The FX broadcasting studio is a retrofitted classroom next door to Manders’ classroom. Equipment is paid for largely through the district’s technology bond and includes donated items from a Detroit-area news station. Last year, the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation awarded a grant to Manders for new microphones.
During shows, more than 20 students work behind the scenes as on-air personalities host the show. Every four weeks a new group becomes the production team, responsible for planning and writing the shows, lining up guests, doing the graphics and pulling sports scores, among other tasks.
Students are required to work in every role, from camera operation to lights, to the control room to editing. On-camera work is optional. Students work in teams of two to four to plan, create and polish a 90-second news story every week.
“It’s a little stressful,” admits junior Dylan Matry, just off a stint as control room producer during a live broadcast. “I think the whole aspect of being on-air, it’s just kind of fun that it all comes together. It’s definitely something I could see as a possible career.”
The final project of the class is a 10-15-minute team film, which is shown at a school film festival in the spring.
Manders said there have been Central High students who have gone on to pursue careers in broadcasting. He recently started a Facebook page to keep track of class alumni.