SHIRLEY -- The "Insider," now airing on channel 8, one of Shirley's public access cable TV stations, is a student-produced show that seventh- and eighth-graders at Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School also write, film and edit themselves.
According to their faculty advisor, Lou Carreras, who is also program director for Shirley Public Access Corporation, or SPACO, the show is all about student life at the school.
Described as "an ambitious mix" of in-studio sequences, student and faculty interviews, classroom vignettes and "open discussions about quality of life issues in the school," a Shirley Oracle reporter recently sat down with Carreras to talk about the new show and met some of the kids behind the scenes.
The visitor caught up with several of the young producers in the hallway outside a walk-in closet-sized "quiet room," where cameras were set up to tape a segment of the show. Inside, students were interviewing other students about topics of interest. Asked why they signed up for the enrichment program, one girl said it was funny and entertaining. Some said they liked doing the interviews best, while others said they enjoyed editing and filming.
They learn to do it all, Carreras said, from technical components to public speaking.
The SPACO studio is located in a larger room down the hall, where weekly programs not associated with the school, such as "Down the Middle" are filmed. Most of the time, the shows are shot by students in the program and high school student interns who participated in it when they were at the middle school.
Carreras said it's pretty sophisticated stuff for kids their age, but they handle it with aplomb. "And it doesn't cost "big bucks," he added. SPACO underwrites the show, drawing funds for equipment and operating expenses, including the director's salary, from its Comcast nest egg. Comcast, the town's cable TV provider, agreed to pay a certain amount to SPACO for public access programming as part of its contract.
The school district provides studio space and in return gets an extra-curricular student-enrichment program. "It's a good partnership," Carreras said.
In addition to hands-on experience with real-life camera and sound equipment, the students also learn to work with adults in a multi-generational studio environment. On a given day, he said, a student producer might be calling the shots while older folks perform various duties, from operating the sound board to appearing on camera.
The kids are building confidence as well as expertise, Careras said, as they come up with ideas, follow through with the work and see the results of their efforts. One 15-year-old, for example, has developed "flawless intuition" about what makes good TV, he said.
Students must have good academic standing to participate in the cable TV enrichment program. But it's not all about work. "It's supposed to be fun," Careras said.
According to a recent press release, "The Insider" schedule is as follows on Channel 8: Friday, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. and Monday, 9:30 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Additional underwriters are welcomed.
Initially showing only in Shirley, the intent was to share tapes with SPACO's counterpart in Ayer so that the show can air in both of the school district's member towns, Carreras said.