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Video group makes quite a production

It's 8 a.m. _ an hour and a half before the school day begins _ and eighth-graders at Bay Point Middle School are pouring into Kent Vermeer's classroom.

Within minutes, the room is cramped with students. Some are reading scripts, others are editing words on computer screens. Wednesday morning is deadline day for the week's segment of Key Points, a cable television show written and produced by a volunteer group of students.

Broadcast time is Friday at 7 p.m. on Time Warner's Channel 14 and on TCI Cable Channel 20. The program airs through the Pinellas County school system.

"Oh, Sarah," shouts one of the producers when her talent, a thin girl with long brown hair, walks through the door. "Sarah is fair-skinned and she always wears light clothes," explains Vermeer. "We'll have to adjust the color."

The show is taped on Wednesday, edited on Thursday, and delivered by Vermeer to the school administration building in Largo on Friday morning. He stops on the way from his Palm Harbor home. He is used to leaving early _ about 6 a.m. _ to open the classroom for the video technology students.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings, they write the scripts for the program and edit videos. Key Points is an informational show that is really for parents rather than students.

"Our goal is to get information to parents," said Vermeer. "We know it gets lost in the backpacks."

The video technology program at the magnet school used to be offered in the eighth grade. This year, the program was transferred to seventh-graders.

So this year's eighth-graders, who would have lost out on the video production curriculum, approached Vermeer with a solution: They would come on their own time to learn video skills.

"Now it's a club more than anything else," said Vermeer. "They worked through the system to figure out a way to do it."

A core group of 10 to 12 students show up nearly every day to work on the half-hour show. Sometimes, they are at school until 9 p.m. to finish the tape by Friday morning.

"It's a big commitment for the students," said Vermeer.

Four student hosts were selected among 27 who auditioned. The hosts _ Justin Johnson, Sarah Abrams, Paris Patrick and Melissa Karshner _ tape their segments on Wednesdays. Last week, the students produced their 10th show.

The program includes information from all of the 23 middle schools in the county. The phone numbers for each school are posted on a large board in the classroom. Every Friday morning, the producers of Key Points call each school for information for the following week's program.

"We encourage them to send videos as well," said Vermeer. "They can send it to us edited or unedited."

Last weekend, viewers who tuned in learned about upcoming events at various schools, including testing dates and schedules for track practice. The students took a camera to Sea Camp in the Florida Keys for a segment on marine biology studies.

"We took cameras along and filmed them swimming in the shark pond with snorkels," Vermeer said.

Students from Seminole Middle School were featured in a tape they submitted about inventions for eating spaghetti with objects other than forks. "Last time we had a pig heart exploration with one of the science classes," said Vermeer.

"We usually film most of the things that we put on the air. We had a dance the other day at school and the disc jockey wanted a video showing what he had to do from beginning to end."

The students operate the video equipment and they helped build their teleprompter. "I'm here for technical assistance, but my producers run the show," Vermeer said.

"I actually encourage my parents to watch the show," said host Justin Johnson, who has performed in front of live audiences at the Tampa Performing Arts Center. "Right now we have a few loyal viewers which happen to be my parents and the parents of the people in here."

"If you enjoy being on camera and you like it, that's a plus," said Vermeer. Producers Elizabeth Corder and Amanda Jones give the cues to each host as they tape the individual segments.

"Try not to stick your tongue out while you're talking," producer Jones advised Johnson.

"Yeah, no lizard lips," hollered another student.

"You all are going to have me going into therapy after this," returned Johnson.

The other hosts rehearsed their lines and put on make-up while Johnson finished his segment.

"That was special, Justin, real special," allowed host Paris Patrick after Johnson finished a couple different takes of his lines.

Sarah Abrams, who also has appeared in local theater, was second up to the anchor desk. "Oh, my hair looks awful," she said. After a couple takes, she said, "I can do this, I know I can do this. Those names, how do you pronounce them?"

"We get a lot of blooper tapes," said cameraman Jeff Anderson.

Patrick made some funny faces between takes and finished just before the bell rang and everybody rushed out to officially start the school day.

"It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of times people argue and stuff and you need to learn to be cooperative," said student Monique Brown, an aspiring photographer on the volunteer staff. "Learning to work together as a team and accomplish a goal has been really rewarding."