NEW PORT RICHEY — Once kids step into Dennis Martin's broadcasting class at Gulf Middle School, they'll work in front of and behind the camera to produce a morning news show. They'll film commercials and skits to promote everything from school meal programs and sport events to the core values and principles of learning.
They'll see their efforts showcased on the new GMS News and YouTube. And along the way, they might just have a little fun.
"This is about the students doing good things — something positive," Martin said.
Working from the format of a morning news show, Martin and his students added extras to the standard school news format, including music, graphics and special effects, quotes of the day, brain teaser trivia questions, staff and student birthdays.
They add humor to the proceedings — junior newscasters happily shouting out "Happy birthday to no one!" on days when there are no student or staff birthdays, and Martin playing the character Chef Royardee (the cousin of Chef Boyardee) to announce lunch menus.
For 14-year-old Sam Cohen, being a GMS News anchor allowed him to stand in the shoes of his favorite comedy character, Ron Burgundy, portrayed by Will Ferrell in the Anchorman movies. More than that, Cohen said the class prepared him for his career.
"I want to be a defense lawyer," he said, "and through this class, I can learn the speech and communication skills I need."
Beyond the news, broadcasting students have filmed, edited and performed in advertisements for school programs and events, such as holiday food drives, the school recycling program and campus vending machines. Martin also encourages students to put their personal stamp on each concept.
"Take ownership of what you do here," he tells students. "Let me see your ideas, your imprint, your personality."
Even students who don't plan a career in front of the camera are finding much to like about Martin's class.
"I've learned how to work cameras and mixers, and how to edit video transitions in this class," said Alexis Casazza, 13. "Everything you need to create a production."
"In this class you can learn how to be a director or producer," said Evan Peckham, 14. "You can put something together that's really special."
Whether students are editing an FCAT countdown clock, filming a student receiving a Random Act of Kindness Award or performing a skit about cafeteria breakfasts, Martin says they are preparing for a variety of potential careers.
"Whether a student might be interested in a career in journalism, in the movies, or in any technical field, they can get that first experience here," he said. "It might give them ideas on what to pursue in high school and college."
According to Hailey Vrana, 14, a self-confessed shy student, the broadcasting class has the power to bring out the creative side in any student.
"I've never been in a class like this," she said. "You see all of our personalities here."