When Nick Amonett came to Dalton Middle in 2007 he noticed something was missing—students weren’t a part of the morning announcements.
“It was like we’d gone back in time,” Amonett said. “You’d just sit there and listen to the principal, and we wanted to make it more about the students and give them a chance to produce their own show.”
Last year was the first full year of Cougar TV and Amonett, who also teaches the school’s Digital Media class, began with 17 students. It’s grown this year to 22.
To be a member of the production team, students must go through an application process. One hundred and fifty students applied to be on the team—65 made it to the try-out stage. After try-outs, different groups of people made lists of who they thought should make the final team—Amonett, the students trying out, and the team from the previous year all made lists of names. To qualify for the team, your name had to be on two of the lists. Twenty-two students made the final production team for Cougar TV.
“They’re learning how to put on a live production,” Amonett said. “There is no second chance, so they’re learning to get it right on the first try.”
There are eight jobs open every day for production—an anchor, cameraman, teleprompter, computer operator, video board operator, sound board operator, and two radio anchors.
The producer of Cougar TV is in charge of making sure everything is going smoothly and on time—the producer for this school year is Bowen Land.
The producer spot is given to someone in the 8th grade (Cougar TV staff is only 7th and 8th graders), and Land was on the staff last year and already knew how things operated.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Land said. “I have to make sure spots are filled. I do jobs occasionally if I’m needed, but I usually let others do it. I do enough.”
Along with Cougar TV, the staff puts together The Classroom—a series of episodes that air once or twice a month on a Friday. The series began last year to being more humor to the hallways.
“It’s a way to add fun and humor,” Amonett said. “Last year we did a first day of school episode, a sing along, an American Idol style show, and 10 Things Not to Do in ISS (In-School Suspension).”
This year the show is taking on a format more likes a series. Each episode is tied to the previous one. In recent episodes, fun has been banned from the school and students try to bring it back.
“We’re careful not to cross a line,” Amonett said of the scenes in the episodes. “We make them so ridiculous that you know they’re a joke. It’s all lighthearted.”
Being on the staff for Cougar TV and The Classroom takes a lot of dedication—some of the work and preparation is done outside of school hours. Before the school year began, the staff met for eight hours to go over equipment and how its used. Also, episodes of The Classroom are filmed during the weekends.
On top of the TV aspects, Amonett’s staff also airs a radio station. The broadcast on 90.9 FM reaches the North Bypass and serves as a way to let parents know what’s going on at the school. Amonett said parents can listen to the station to get updates when they’re sitting in the line waiting to pick up their kids after school.
“The students are learning leadership,” Amonet said. “They have to put the final thing together. But most of all, it’s for fun.”
By Lindsey Derrick, Dalton Public Schools Contributor