By May S. Ruiz
Monday through Friday, from 11:03 a.m. to 12:02 p.m., finds 20 of Arcadia High School’s (AHS) brightest broadcast journalists and technicians producing the week’s 15-minute Apache News (APN) show.
This Advanced Video Production class runs its weekly meetings pretty much how television stations conduct theirs. Ryan Foran, Public Information Officer for the Arcadia Unified School District, who was a broadcast news reporter in the past, has high praises for this class.
Foran says, “If you walk into KABC anytime today during their production meeting, it would look exactly like this – the news team will be talking about ideas, reporters will be pitching stories to the news director. When these kids go to college this is what they’ll see.”
“It’s a popular course and is difficult to get into,” according to Frank Nunez, who teaches the class. “Once the posting goes up, students have to attend an informational meeting to learn about the course prerequisites. There’s an application process, which includes an interview, and two teacher letters of recommendation are required. They have to have finished beginning and intermediate courses to be eligible for this capstone course, which they can take in junior and senior year. It is UC-credited and is one of the few Pathways in AHS.”
It takes at least ten hours to create Apache News, which AHS airs every Friday during fourth period. Everyone in Nunez’s class contributes in some capacity and each is graded based on attendance, participation, and content. It’s a very time-consuming and intense course as seniors Andre Salcido, Simone Chu, and Will Atkinson can attest to.
Salcido, who writes documentaries and edits political news for APN, says, “There’s a required daily class attendance – fourth period – and we also have to be enrolled in the after-school class that meets twice a week. We cover Saturday sports events on top of that, so we’re putting in a minimum of ten hours per week.”
“But everyone likes this class because of the resources available to us; we know it prepares us for college,” Salcido adds. “The experiences I’ve gained have put me further along than the average student going into this field. While I had initially thought of taking film studies, I developed an interest in documentaries and last year I completed a multi-part project about the California drought. It was something which had never been done before – my documentary group used HD cameras and travelled to the Central Valley for weeks interviewing people, gathering case studies from area residents. It became a finalist in the Arcadia Film Festival and we were even invited to the Water Symposium ‘Save the Water’ where we showed our film and spoke about our experience.”
“This year I’m working solo on a documentary about mental health and have been talking with students with mental illness. At one point we got an invitation to interview the Director of Health Services for California. So there we were on a plane and I thought ‘I couldn’t believe the school is paying for us to fly to Sacramento for this class – we are in one of the best courses in the country!’” Salcido elated.
Meanwhile, Chu, APN’s Breaking News and Political News expert charged with studio scriptwriting and editing, is an accomplished journalist herself. She is currently editor of AHS’s newspaper and is a student columnist for the LA Times’s High School Insider.
One of Chu’s recent segments for APN took her all the way to Oroville to cover the dam and ensuing spillway damage during the heavy rains in the state. She says, “I called up people in the area and I dialed into a press conference with the town.”
As political specialist, Chu was busy during the 2016 presidential elections. She discloses, “Before the elections, I was running around the campus getting student opinions. We also held a mock election and compared our results with the rest of the nation. More recently, when Sean Spicer (White House press secretary and communications director for President Trump) banned certain media outlets from attending a press briefing, I was able to get a comment from New York Times Washington bureau reporter, Eric Lichtblau, for a story I was writing.”
Handling two of the most exciting news assignments will keep Chu on her toes and in the thick of things. “Journalism has been my aspiration since elementary school,” she claims. “That’s why I pursued newspaper writing and when I had the chance to try out for APN, I took it. It’s intense, but it’s a fun kind of intense. And the best part is that everyone is passionate about what they do; it’s quite refreshing to be working alongside people who give their best to put on a show very week.”
Atkinson is APN’s sports producer, tech manager and gag creator. While he is mostly behind the camera, he has reported for a few stories as APN’s sports announcer and soccer commentator. He creates the intro gags for the show and even acts in them.
“I was recruited for this class and couldn’t be happier for agreeing to do it; this program taught me to work well with others,” Atkinson pronounces. “We put in countless hours not because we’re getting paid, but because we love doing it. And it has its flattering moments as I discovered when we were shooting the middle school play ‘A Monster Ate My Homework.’ I was setting up the systems when a bunch of eighth graders asked, ‘Are you Will from APN?’ My tech director, Justin, told me they had been talking about my great hair for a while.” So much for preferring to be an anonymous, behind-the-scenes guy.
According to Nunez, Atkinson is responsible for creating a relationship between APN and AHS’s sports teams and coaches. One of the reasons APN has been more visible lately is its expanded sports coverage and live streaming that started this year. It is a point of pride for Dr. Brent Forsee, AHS principal.
“I was with a bunch of friends one day watching an AHS game on my phone when they said ‘Hey, let’s watch that; how do you get that on TV?” So we hooked it up and we all watched the live stream on TV. They were very impressed with the camera work and the play-by-play. It was all done very professionally,” tells Dr. Forsee.
Ryan credits this degree of professionalism to Nunez, who has an extensive background in film technology and TV production. Before teaching Advanced Video Production at AHS full time this year, he had been travelling for ESPN’s sports broadcasts, flying the SkyCam for football games on cable television. He has won three Emmy Awards for his work.
“It’s Mr. Nunez’s real-world experiences in livestreaming you see now on Fox Sports that’s allowing our students to get the high level of training in putting on a live sports event – using multi-camera sets on shoots,” Ryan declares.
While Nunez taught in college, he didn’t really set out to teach full time. He reveals, “I come from a live sports background; it’s something that I really enjoy. I was on the fence about taking this job because I didn’t know if this was quite the right time – I expected a much longer career in film and video. Bill Citrin, the previous teacher, roped me into teaching part time and it evolved into a full-time job. But it’s nice to get the chance to bring in that element of sports production, which I really miss, into this environment. I love the high energy games we go to.”
“There’s quite an old history to this program. I was at an alumni event and had a conversation with the previous instructor, who told me that this began in 1986 as a sort of industrial tech class,” Nunez relates. “They built the very first camera they used for it – a toilet paper roll was utilized for the lens. Then it took off in 1997-1998 with Bill Citrin, who expanded the course to what it is today.”
An AHS alumnus himself, Nunez attended from 1998 to 2002 and was in Citrin’s class. He states, “I can say first-hand that I took this course and then when I went to UC Santa Cruz, I didn’t touch a camera for two years until I started a news broadcast in college. I pretty much created that show based on this program and it’s still running there today. I got so much more experience here than in film school. I was so prepared; I had a leg up once I got to project management – shooting a film, pre-production work, etc. – all of which I had done here on a weekly basis.”
Nunez has big plans for the course, including creating a new weekly show, adding more sports themes and increasing content. He says, “We don’t call it a class; we’re professionals. I have very high expectations and I keep raising the bar lest we become complacent. We won’t rest on our laurels.” They have, in fact, begun work on a late-night comedy-style bonus show, the first episode of which they hope to air in early April.
When Dr. Forsee pronounces, “I’ve been extremely impressed with these students’ commitment to journalism. I could put us against professionals in the industry as far as what they’re practicing and learning.” It is a testament to the school’s confidence in the integrity of Apache News and the team that produces it.