Diversity & Inclusion
Education / Media / Youth

How the School District saved and re-launched its student-run TV studio

Once forgotten in the basement at School District headquarters, the District's TV studio now has a new leader, funding and even a partnership with the Democratic National Convention.

Shelly Wolfe (left) and Kyra Williams experiment with the new lights recently installed in the Philadelphia School District’s Public School TV Station. (Photo by Kevin Yang)
Kyra Williams was scrambling.

She only had one hour to prep to film an event at School District headquarters in late March featuring rapper Ice Cube and actor Deon Cole, who were donating $5,000 to the District’s early literacy campaign. Williams, a senior at Masterman High School, was an intern at the district’s Public School TV Channel (PSTV) and this was a last-minute assignment.
She quickly researched the pair’s latest movie and then wrote 10 questions to ask if there was time for an interview (there wasn’t, but she did get a photo with Ice Cube). For Williams, it wasn’t difficult since she had experience with a different camera, but nerve-wracking given the little notice she was given.
“That was like my first time actually filming something live,” she said, smiling as she recalled the memory.
Williams is just one of the students who’s learning video skills through PSTV, thanks to a team of District officials who saved the studio. For many years, PSTV was an abandoned station tucked away in the basement of the School District’s headquarters, next to its archival storage space and separated by a little path paved with sticky mouse traps. The studio was forgotten due to budget cuts and a lack of understanding PSTV’s value, PSTV officials said.
But officials in the School District and the surrounding community saw its growth potential and significance and fought for its revival. Now, with financial support, stronger partnerships and a new leader, PSTV hopes to empower the voices of the students in the schools and expose them to new career opportunities. The studio, whose programming can be found on Comcast Channel 52, Verizon FiOS Channel 50, YouTube and online, is free and open to all students in Philadelphia, regardless of whether the school is private, public, charter or parochial.

Shelley Wolfe sits at her desk, making edits to PSTV's new video. (Photo by Kevin Yang)

Shelley Wolfe sits at her desk, making edits to PSTV’s new video. (Photo by Kevin Yang)

In early 2014, a team of officials in the District took the abandoned studio under their wing and started the transition to a student-run, student-created channel. That team consisted of Chief Information Officer Melanie Harris, Superintendent Dr. William Hite and Philip Ichinaga, the District’s executive director of information technology security.
Shelley Wolfe, the station’s newly-hired manager and Williams’ mentor, credited the team of District officials with recognizing the value of the station.
“They understood the importance of making sure that our channel stayed alive and really set a focus to make sure that this became a student-run station where students not only worked and learned, but then became the educators, mentors and interns that really can be the backbone of the station,” Wolfe said in an interview with Technical.ly.
Wolfe, who has revamped community television stations and run her own music company, said that the most difficult part of revamping PSTV was not the financial aspect. Through public, education and government (PEG) franchise fees paid by Comcast and Verizon that were available but never used, the District was able to purchase new state-of-the-art equipment for the station before Wolfe arrived in the fall of 2015.
The station will have continued support: in 2015, a new contract between Comcast and the City of Philadelphia was signed to support PSTV with $4.5 million over the next 15 years through franchise fees.
Shelly Wolfe (right) teaches Kyra Williams how to use the controls in the Control Room. (Photo by Kevin Yang)

Shelly Wolfe (right) teaches Kyra Williams how to use the controls in the Control Room. (Photo by Kevin Yang)

For Wolfe, the most difficult part was making sure that everything in the station was working properly, from the equipment to the available talent base. Currently, she is the only full-time staffer working in the station, so her tasks range from lifting and moving 25 old computers from an obsolete media studio to creating forms and manuals for future users.
Coming from Silicon Valley, where she previously served as the executive director of KMVT 15 Silicon Valley Community Media, Wolfe wanted to formally work with kids and share her wealth of experience to establish a new kind of TV station. While schools may have their own individual channels, she aims for PSTV to serve as a model for other districts to create a district-wide platform that expresses the voices of students from a diverse amount of backgrounds and is completely student-run, the latter of which is rare.
“I see it as a multimedia maker center, but I also see it as the TV station that provides opportunities for students to learn in a closed environment and a state-of-the-art production studio,” she says.
She is developing after school programs and working on organizing virtual roundtables through Google Hangouts.
While the official launch of the studio will be this September, Wolfe’s PSTV has already helped Central High School’s news team revamp their school channel, hosted a Friday after school program with WHYY and broadcasted student-produced content from class projects created outside the studio. The station has worked with 200 students so far, Wolfe said. Student-contributed content currently featured ranges from PSAs about hunger and incarceration to documentaries on the LGBTQ community to school infomercials.
The benefits of working with PSTV go beyond video product, Wolfe said.
“What I find interesting about media and what I tell people is, maybe you won’t go into the media field, but how it’s going to benefit you is you learn how to team player, you learn how to be a leader and you learn how to communicate,” Wolfe said.
PSTV is also working with local organizations, like the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and WHYY. The University of Pennsylvania program involves graduate students picking a school and working with students there to create a video about their school, while WHYY’s Media Labs initiative seeks to put media production kits and a WHYY instructor, into 27 schools over the course of three years. The content produced through this program gives PSTV content to broadcast.
Below, see a PSTV-produced film about North Philly’s Randolph High School as part of the Penn partnership.

This month, PSTV will be partnering with WHYY and the Democratic National Convention, along with KYW Newsradio and the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement, to provide a free program for teachers and students in middle and high school with speaker events, trainings and live reporting opportunities. The program is called Youth News Team.
Williams, the PSTV intern, won’t be attending the program because she’s participating in summer video production camp Grammy Camp New York before she heads to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts on a full Gates Millennium scholarship, but she will continue to work in the PSTV studio over the summer to work on a documentary that she’s producing about diversity as Masterman.
Although she originally wanted to be in front of the camera, she fell in love with the control room instead.
“I need to be in control of what’s happening on screen so that I know my vision is coming to life,” she said.

Companies: School District of Philadelphia

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