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Mastering the media

Communication students entering Countryside High this fall will be entering a new dimension. They'll be the first to experience the school's media communications cluster.

And, if they stick with the program, by the time they graduate, they'll be a step ahead when it comes time to apply for a job, says TV production teacher Carl Zimmerman.

"Schools at the turn of the century were designed to teach our culture," Zimmerman said. "At the turn of this century, mass media does that. Good or bad, we need to teach our students how to communicate and understand those messages. The whole idea is to give them everything they need to communicate on multiple levels through multiple media. When they leave here, they'll be familiar and up to date with the hot current programs used in the business world."

The communications cluster will consist of graphic arts, TV production and journalism classes which will revolve around a computer lab allowing a free-flow environment for students.

First-year students will be introduced to basic computer programs such as desktop publishing. Later, more sophisticated programs will be introduced that will apply to students' specific majors.

As the concept grows, Zimmerman said more academic subjects could be integrated into the cluster.

School administrators hope the cluster will be an entry for a communications academy. By January, principal Sharon Lambeth said, the school will be ready to take the concept to the school board for approval.

"There still are a lot of hurdles but it certainly could evolve into that," school board member Jane Gallucci said. "There's an absolute need to better prepare our kids for the business world. I'm behind them 100 percent. I think this a great example of site-based management _ they saw a need and they're taking the initiative to develop something very specific."

For now, because of the location of the involved classrooms, it's the courses that will be clustered, not their physical location. The proposed academy would be housed in a 9,000-square-foot area that was once home to the now defunct automobile shop.

Zimmerman said the estimated cost for equipment is $200,000. It would take another $750,000 to remodel the auto shop. The school is in the process of applying for a grant for computers, software, CD-ROM writers and multimedia hardware.

Pending school board approval, Lambeth plans to use money already set aside. As for the lab, the school's business department is scheduled for an update in 1999, Zimmerman said, which would help pay for additional computers and programming.

"This is not just a teacher-driven concept," principal Sharon Lambeth said. "Our school advisory and school-to-work committees are very much behind this. It's all about meeting the needs of our students. We need to be more focused on their career plans and an academy would address this issue."

Journalism teacher Nora Moulton agrees.

"We're successful with what we do right now," she said. "But it's really hit or miss because we only have these kids for a semester or two. If we could keep them in a communications venue for four years there's definitely an advantage."