By Patrick Yost
When school officials constructed a new high school and included a state-of-the-art video production facility they had no idea that the space, equipment, technology and expertise would be used to inform the community during the worst pandemic of modern times.
But go on Youtube and Facebook and look and you’re likely to find Morgan County Manager Adam Mastres or Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley or Madison Mayor Fred Perriman delivering an update on what each respective government is doing to mitigate the coronavirus.
Morgan County High School Visual Media Instructor Tom White, last Friday, was prepping Morgan County Charter School System Superintendent Dr. James Woodard for an address.
As Dr. Woodard stood before a green screen in the school’s studio, White surveyed several monitors and watched Dr. Woodard from a glass barrier. On this day, Dr. Woodard is discussing reactions to Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to halt all state schooling through May. Dr. Woodard stares into a tele-prompter under a video camera and begins.
“When the governor made his announcement I was heartbroken… “ Dr. Woodard begins. Dr. Woodard continues to pledge to make graduation a reality for the Class of 2020 and as he does so, a photo of an 18-year-old Woodard in a cap and gown standing with his mother appears in the backgroud. “We will work to deliver a graduation exercise,” he promises.
On White’s screen Dr. Woodard appears to be standing in the school’s library as he gives his briefing. For Markley, it was the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office logo in the background.
Mayor Perriman is shown in front of Madison City Hall. His briefing, given on March 20, has received 1,400 views. In it, he asks “every person in Madison to take care of yourself and the rest of the community.”
“Less contact is safer for the foreseeable future,” Perriman says.
For White, producing the videos, which appear professional and seamless, is all in a day’s work.
“It should be my role in a community,” he says. “I encourage the other video teachers to reach out.”
Markley says he is using the $100,000 studio and its capabilities to reach out to citizens in a time when, he says, he is using all available methods of communication to keep citizens aware of the sometimes daily changes in edicts and orders. “I think it’s vital,” he says, “It’s another method to deliver messaging. I get a lot of positive feedback.”
While the school’s physical plant is closed to students, White runs the Sony PXW 70 camera (the lab has six), edits the tape and provides copies for the leaders to disseminate. During normals school operations, approximately 60 students at a time use the studio and bank of Apple computers to create and share videos. Students video two daily announcements in the studio, which is lined with acoustic panels, and broadcast them throughout the school and on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch. “That is the end product of every day’s lesson,” White says. The studio is also used to teach students animation and covers all of Morgan County High School’s sporting events. “If they’re running, we’re going to be there,” he says.
Last year, White came to Morgan County High School after serving seven years working at the Rockdale County Charter School System White’s program was named the National Federation of High School’s (basically the high school equivalent of the NCAA) program of the year. White has taught in Morgan County for two years and, he says, the job has been gratifying and he marvels at how quickly and creatively the students grasp the equipment and concepts.
“During the year, I never touch this equipment after the second week,’ he says. “The kids do it all.”