Newport News Public Schools TV and the Telecommunications Center

NNPS's TV production classes, station celebrate 30th anniversary
A series about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV

In the 30 years since Newport New Public Schools' Telecommunications program got its start, a lot has changed in the realm of video and television production, the most obvious things being the advent of digital media and the availability of audio and video "production" for the masses. Still, proper education in TV/video production has not been replaced by instructional videos on YouTube.

Since the 1986-87 school year, the students at Telecom have been receiving top-notch instruction from working professionals in the television industry. They get two years of hands-on experience in all aspects of television production. They rotate through various positions from camera operator to talent to technical director in order to get a feel for the jobs they might pursue in the future. They learn studio and remote digital broadcasting and production, and can see their shows and promos broadcast on NNPS-TV (Cox Channel 47/Verizon FiOS Channel 17).

Farah Brown records in studio
Farah Brown, better known now as Cocoa Brown, records in the studio at Telecom around 1990.
Telecom archive photo

Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck was Telecom's first television instructor. She started in 1986 as Assistant Supervisor for Telecommunications Education. Previously she had been a producer/director of a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) affiliate at Penn State University. She also worked as videotape editor for WTKR while teaching at Telecom.

The Telecom curriculum included TV production in the field and in the studio: equipment, camera operation, lighting, audio, and video editing. Whitaker-Heck was no-nonsense and demanded much of the students, who flourished in that environment.

Under her supervision, the students took part in "Broadcast Days," which were realistic eight- or 12-hour live broadcasts, during which the students handled everything. Telecom students provided all the programming for the NNPS-TV channel during these events, and they also included live programming for WTKR and WAVY. The students did live newscasts, aired student-produced documentaries, and ran educational shows from The Learning Channel.

More stories

"30 years of TV at NNPS" is a series of stories about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV.

Whitaker-Heck had the students enter their videos in contests, too. In 1989, they produced and starred in a music video for a national contest sponsored by the Florida Department of Citrus. The video was about the nutritional benefits of orange juice. More than 187 entries from 39 states were submitted, and Telecom's entry won the "Best Original Words and Music Award." The original lyrics were written by then-17-year-old Farah Brown, known better now as popular stand-up comic, actress and producer Cocoa Brown.

The students participated in VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) competitions; they won third place at a national competition in Louisville, Kentucky. VICA is now called SkillsUSA, a career and technical student organization, and current Telecom students still participate in it.

Dr. Whitaker-Heck is currently Associate Dean for Administration/Associate Professor in the Communication and Creative Media Division at Champlain College in Vermont. She taught at Telecom until 1991.

A number of different instructors have taught TV students over the years, with current Telecom Supervisor Ray Price starting as Instructor and Assistant Supervisor in 1992, and Instructor Carl Daniels, Jr. joining the staff in 2012. Both Price and Daniels instruct the students and lead student productions. They encourage students to compete in SkillsUSA. They also teach night courses in TV production at Telecom through the Center for Apprenticeship & Adult Training. Both have plenty of experience in the industry with various TV stations and media outlets.

Telecom program highlights
  • Two years of hands-on experience in all aspects of television production
  • First-year students make broadcast-worthy material
  • Students earn college credit
  • TV-II students receive honors credit
  • Classes are taught by a faculty of working professionals
  • Students use state-of-the-art media production facilities
  • Students learn all phases of studio and remote digital broadcasting and production
  • Students can participate in local and national media associations
  • Students can compete using their skills on a state and national level (SkillsUSA)

The Telecom program has adapted and changed over the years to keep up with technology, the needs and desires of the students and those of the industry they may be entering in the near future. Depending on the mix of students participating, some years the students may be more interested in broadcast engineering or writing scripts than being in front of the camera, and some years everyone wants to be the "talent," so their projects and competitions may vary.

One project the Telecom students have consistently worked on in recent years is video-recording and producing a DVD for the "Every 15 Minutes" program. This national anti-drinking and driving program is a two-day event that simulates a fatal car accident involving intoxicated students. Telecom crews record the action at the various sites: the crash at the school and the scenes at the hospital, morgue, funeral home, jail, and courthouse. A DVD showing the repercussions of driving under the influence is produced by Telecom and played for the students during a school assembly the next day.

Telecom students have been working with NASA for the past year, helping put together educational videos called eClips, which educate students about a specific scientific term, and SME2's, which feature a subject-matter expert in the field of science.

As in the past, the Telecom crew shoots high school sporting events and graduations. In recent years, they have worked on "Fuzion Fitness," an exercise show created by Price and Telecom graduate Alexis Perkins, the show's host.

Like Perkins, many Telecommunications program graduates have gone on to careers in the media industry. Examples of jobs include: master control operator, news anchor, talent, film director, producer, technical director, and announcer.

Steven Wilks, Field Producer for Entertainment Tonight in California, graduated from Telecom in 2005. Wilks usually communicates with Price when he is covering a big story or working the red carpet at the Oscars.

"Telecom helped me really define what I wanted to do," said Wilks.

Besides career direction, the Telecom program now has more to offer students. In 2012, students began receiving college credit from NSU (Norfolk State University) for TV Production classes. And very recently, the School Board approved a course revision for Television II, making it an honors level class, beginning with the 2017-18 school year.

A lot of things have changed at Telecom over the past 30 years, in ways hard to imagine back in the 1980s and '90s. Today’s Telecom students use cutting-edge digital video equipment and technology like remote-controlled video cameras, a remote video production truck for on-location live broadcasts, a TriCaster multi-camera production system, and the AVID Media Composer 5 editing software (which is used for major motion pictures). But the essence of the program - which is to teach high school students the fundamentals of creating and producing television shows - and the devotion of the teaching staff, remain the same.