Student TV network grows

The network began operations in 1992.
BOARDMAN -- Boardman Schools Television Network is ready for prime time.
Starting tonight, the network will expand its programming, available on Channel 19 to Armstrong Cable subscribers in Boardman, Poland and Canfield, to a regular schedule Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 p.m.
Until today, Channel 19's prime-time offerings were a mixed bag of scrolling public service announcements with a program thrown in here and there.
Now, the schedule includes nightly two-hour broadcasts of previously taped Boardman High School band and choral concerts at 8 each night. Student-oriented programs air at 7 p.m.; at 10 p.m., the spotlight turns to the community, with shows such as "The Law & amp; You," "County Government Report," "Statehouse Report" and "Boardman Biography."
BSTN got its start in 1992. The idea for a student TV station was suggested by Allen Butcher, a parent whose middle school son was interested in TV production.
How it developed
With Butcher's support and encouragement, the station started with daily announcement and grew from there. Partnership with Armstrong Cable has given the station 24-hour-a-day exposure on local cable.
Having a regular prime-time schedule gives viewers a reason to turn in, said Tom Sullivan, the Boardman High School teacher whose students run BSTN.
"This gives our viewers better programming and more programming," Sullivan said. "The concerts are a big thing with our viewers. Now they'll know when to find them."
Sullivan, a Kent State University graduate, started teaching industrial arts. As BSTN has grown, so has his workload. He now teaches just one traditional industrial arts class; the remainder of his day is spent in television production. He teaches four levels of television classes and acts as manager of the TV station.
Takes a commitment
Students sometimes sign up for the television class, Sullivan said, because they think it'll be fun. Those students get weeded out quickly, he said, because the work is tough.
"You have to spend five to 10 hours outside class working on projects," he said. "A lot of people don't want to do that."
But a few students don't mind putting in the time.
"You've got to be into it to do it," said Cheri Jones, a 16-year-old junior who is in her third year of TV classes. "I just love it."
For as long as she can remember, Jones has wanted to be in front of a camera.
"It has always been my dream to be a movie star," she said. "I wanted to be Julia Roberts. But I've realized this is more in my perspective."
Working at BSTN has helped Jones to map out a career plan. She hopes to start working for a radio station, and then wants to move into on-camera sports reporting. Her dream job: working for ESPN.
She enjoys the practical experience she's getting at the school station. She's already used that experience to do local radio commercials.
In her first-year class, Jones worked on both sides of the camera. She quickly decided that she liked being on-air, and she hasn't looked back.
Sullivan gives students the chance to find their niche in their first year, he said, and once they do, they work at building the skills they need.
Behind the scenes
Kassie Gustafson, 18, doesn't like being on camera. She did it a few times, but quickly returned to the editing and directing.
"I'm definitely all behind the scenes," said Gustafson, who plans to major in special education at Westminster College.
Even though she doesn't plan to use the class as a career springboard, Gustafson said the television classes are her favorite.
Because of her TV classes, Gustafson said, she can "edit any tape" and she enjoys directing the public-affairs programs that BSTN offers.
Many students at Boardman High aren't aware of what goes on at the TV station, Sullivan said.
It is tucked away on the high school's second floor. As Sullivan moves from class to class and students come and go, the station's continuity director is Susan Bissell, a mother of three and former PTA volunteer who took a part-time job at the station at few years ago.
Bissell sits at the center of a suite of adjoining rooms that includes a small classroom full of sophisticated editing equipment and a sign-up board for assignments.
A sound booth overlooks the 1,600-seat high school auditorium, and on the other side is the setting for the station's in-studio productions. The sparse but well-dressed set features an anchor desk with a background of encyclopedia-laden shelves and a talk-show set with chairs, a rug and a curtain behind.
Cameras crowd the second half of the room. The equipment, Sullivan said, rivals that of any small television station in the country.
"Students who leave this program and move into college programs tell me that they're way ahead in terms what they've gotten at this level," Sullivan said. "In the whole state of Ohio, there are very few programs that come close to what we've got here. Austintown has something like this. Westlake in Cleveland. That's about it."
Sullivan and his students are excited about the expanded programming. It's a lot more work, he said, but the payoff is great.
"They're learning a trade here," he said. "It's something practical they can take out into the world and use. That's what school is for, isn't it?"