Cedar Crest High School’s broadcast program is building quite a reputation for itself among its peers across the nation.

The program received six awards at the recently concluded Student Television Network convention in Long Beach, California, that was attended by over 3,000 high schoolers representing 200 schools from around the country. 

It’s an outstanding achievement considering that some schools at the convention focus primarily on media-related studies, according to Cedar Crest High School broadcast class instructor Cody Hassler. 

“I wish we could take everyone that lives here and show them this (convention),” said Hassler. “We are competing against huge established programs that take 50 kids; Cedar Crest had 16. To hear your name mentioned with all of these other schools is mind-blowing.”

While the convention judges pre-convention crafted entries, of which Cedar Crest won two awards, the student’s abilities are put to the test by creating same-day content in six- or eight-hour (aka Crazy 8’s) time limits. Cedar Crest won four on-site awards at the convention.

On-site awards:

  • 1st Place in Public Service Announcement 
  • 2nd Place in Movie Trailer
  • 2nd Place in Short Film
  • Honorable Mention in Silent Film

Pre-convention entries

  • A Broadcast Excellence Award: Outstanding Achievement for the school’s daily show –  “CCHS Today”
  • A Film Excellence Award: Best Art Direction for “Avarice”

Hassler said he was impressed with his students who battled jet lag and needed a little bit of time to acclimatize to the convention process. However, once they did, they were creating content while “firing on all cylinders.” They didn’t win any awards the first day, but grabbed one on Friday and won three out of four categories they entered on Saturday.

“It was awesome to know that our kids got better as it went,” said Hassler. “Their tenacity and their ability to figure out how to get things done. The cool thing is that for those contests, the teachers and counselors are hands off. We may get someone from one point to another, but they do all the shooting, all the editing, everything themselves.” 

The pace of the convention, Hassler said, is relentless.

“It’s not a vacation. When you get there, it’s work from the second you get up until you go to bed. It’s hard to wear out teenagers, but this convention does. Their down time is when they are at the awards ceremony. They get their food and eat it on the go.”

The pace seemed to fuel his students, with Hassler adding, “They went after it and got it. For the students, this is their Super Bowl.” Ironically, the theme of the convention, according to STN’s website, was “Relentless.”

Cedar Crest High School juniors Autumn McKelvie, left, and Yadelys Suarez won first place for their Public Service Announcement promoting water conservation. A screen shot of their 30-second spot is displayed behind them. (James Mentzer)

The first-place Public Service Announcement (PSA) was created by CCHS junior students Yadelys Suarez and Autumn McKelvie, whose prompt in this category was titled, “All We Have is Now.”

Teams were charged with making a creative piece that highlights a current issue in society and brings awareness to the problem. The inclusion of statistics and a call to action were also components of the judging criteria in this particular prompt.

“My mind went to water and since we were in California, we focused on California,” said McKelvie about the importance of that issue to residents of that state. McKelvie plans to study film in college after high school graduation because she loves the creative side of the craft.

Not only is the time constraint of three hours to film and three hours to edit a spot that had to be exactly 30 seconds impressive, but they used a filming technique for their PSA that was encouraged by their teacher.

“Mr. Hassler wanted us to use paper stop-motion since I’ve used it in my cooking show,” said McKelvie, referring to a film style that’s also known as cutout animation. 

Cutout animation is a form of stop-motion animation that uses flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper, card, stiff fabric or photographs. Hassler said the students took along all the supplies they would need to create their PSA.

“Our project involved animated graphics, which was unique,” said Hassler. “A majority of the submissions were live action that was filmed in the city, so I think ours was extremely unique.”

Both students had some doubts about their PSA’s chances of winning, which Hassler said was shot, edited and submitted in less than six hours.  

“I didn’t believe it. Honestly, I didn’t have that much faith but was sooooo happy,” said Suarez, who also plans to pursue a career in the broadcast industry after high school in a still-to-be-determined field. 

“I had some faith, but you never know because so many of them are good,” said McKelvie. “Our teacher was hyping us up the whole time. … He was like, ‘You guys are going to get first place,’ and we did,” said McKelvie.

Five days a week students in the school’s broadcast class create a daily news program called “CCHS Today.” The news segments include announcements about school programs, sports results, the daily lunch menu, the occasional ad and other relevant content, including special features, student profiles and the popular “Run and Gun” on-the-spot interviews that occur in the school’s hallways. 

Cedar Crest High School seniors Lilith Schaeffer, left, and Ethan Martin on the set of “CCHS Today,” the school’s daily newscast that won a top award at the recent Student Television Network convention in California. (James Mentzer)

An entry they submitted pre-convention took home a Broadcast Excellence Award for outstanding achievement for a daily show. 

During their time at Cedar Crest, students learn every aspect of what it takes to create a daily news program, which usually runs about five minutes on Wednesdays and seven minutes the rest of the week.

Broadcast students produce the news show during first and second periods and then it airs to the entire student body during the third period.

Senior Ben Sheffield, who has climbed the program ladder to become a morning show executive producer, said his initial interest in broadcast media started at a young age when students were permitted to read the daily announcements at Ebenezer Elementary School.  “I really wanted to be on it, but I was not picked to be on it,” noted  Sheffield, who did finally get to do announcements in middle school.

Sheffield said at the high school, everyone starts at the bottom and works upward. 

“You only start doing announcements during your BV 2 year, which is when you are really learning, so you get to try out a lot of different jobs and learn which ones you like, which ones you are good at,” he said. “But everyone sort of finds their niche, what they like to do, what they are good at.”

Although Sheffield plans to study medicine in college, he believes the communications skills he’s learned in the broadcast program will benefit him in his career and throughout his lifetime.

“What I’ve learned here will help me in my career no matter what I do,” he said, adding he’s made a promotional piece for the Lebanon Valley Tennis Association that taught him the value of community. “I noticed that I’ve been able to take my broadcast and film and creative skills outside the classroom. …Their big mission statement discusses building community through tennis and I think, in terms of medicine, it is a commitment to serving your community. Having these broadcast and videography skills that I can use to reach the community are very valuable to me.”

Senior Ben Sheffield, standing, produces a newscast in Cedar Crest High School’s production control room. The school has two sets, multiple cameras and all the technological equipment needed to produce from scratch a daily news program that airs to the entire student body. (James Mentzer)

Senior Zachary Marsh values the school’s broadcast program, which includes announcement broadcasts, live streams, broadcast video 1, an entry-level, film-based class, broadcast video 2, which is a broadcast video-based focus and independent film study, the most advanced film class the school offers. 

“This has helped me a lot with the field I want to enter,” said Marsh, who plans to study sports communications at Point Park University in Pittsburgh this fall. “You learn how to run the equipment, how to prepare for a broadcast and how to communicate with people because you have to communicate to make a broadcast happen. Teamwork is also important. Everyone has a job and you have to be able to work as a team.”

Marsh enjoys the school’s live stream program, which was featured in LebTown last fall, because it does more than just cover sports. Students have streamed the prom, commencement ceremonies and the theater department’s performances in real time.

“It’s fun to work with people and I like that we do a whole lot of different things, which makes it fun too,” said Marsh. “Mr. Hassler has been great with preparing me for what I want to do in the future. He makes the program fun and he’s a great teacher to work with. The decision to be in this program is one of the best of my high school career. It helped me find my career path, and the trip to California taught me a lot about the community aspect of it.”

Read More: CCHS Today presents: The Cedar Crest football team

Three film student’s 15-minute short flick titled “Avarice” was honored with a Film Excellence Award for Best Art Direction. While the student crew who made the film had high hopes for even more awards at the convention, Hassler said the one-minute clip that was shown at the awards ceremony was beyond well-received.

Student filmmakers Finn Royer, second from left, Logan Balmer, middle, and Reed Fretz, along with broadcast classroom teacher Cody Hassler, far right, and Don Muritz, adult chaperone at the national convention who also has a role in the award-winning flick, “Avarice,” are all smiles after the 15-minute film won the prestigious Best Art Direction award at the recent Student Television Network national convention in California. (Provided photo)

While every winning entry at the awards ceremony received applause, reaction to this short film that won a prestigious award was different. 

“Every film received one of these,” said Hassler while demonstrating what is typically referred to as golf applause. “Everything from the weekend and from beforehand got that. But when they showed our clip,  the whole crowd went ‘Ohhhh’ and it was the only one that got a reaction. It was almost like chills down your spine, and you could feel that the crowd wanted to see what happened next.”

It was a first for Hassler.

“That one got a reaction like I’ve never heard in the last three years that I’ve been there. It was like this audible ‘oh my gosh’ and that was because they did such a great job with it.”

Hassler said a teaching moment presented itself for the trio of students who poured so much into making their period-piece film come alive for audiences. 

“I said I was really proud of them and that winning best art direction is a fantastic award,” he said, noting that no other entries had a cool location like Bordners Cabin to shoot their video. “We all went out on our own and bought our own costumes. … I told them that they won for all of the upfront work they did. I said, ‘You won for location, costumes, the fact that we used different dialects from the 1920s, which the writing reflected, and you won for the set design, in general.’ No other group out there put that much work into the set they filmed on.”

Read More: Student filmmakers from Cedar Crest HS enter flicks in national competition

Those factors, for Hassler, set “Avarice” apart and makes Best Art Direction a special honor. 

“I think that’s why that’s a cool award – because it is hard to win. It is an effort award. They went the extra hundred miles to make a set that looked like a Hollywood movie and they got rewarded for that,” he said. 

Hassler says there is never a dull moment in the broadcast program department and noted there are always opportunities for students to learn from their mistakes – especially when making a news program like “CCHS Today” given its hectic format.

“They do a run-through, sometimes two,” he said. “But there’s no editing, so you will see little mistakes, which is okay because it’s part of the learning process. We can debrief after that and discuss how to get it right the next time.” 

The school’s media program has existed for about two decades and enthusiasm for it within the student body remains, well, relentless. 

“It’s been around for about 20 years in different shapes and forms,” said Hassler. “It started out as mass media and journalism, but as technology has improved, so has this field. Social media has come into play. YouTube is huge – a lot of our content goes out to YouTube. A lot of our conversations are like, ‘Who’s the audience? Where is this being shared?” That does dictate how we film things, how we ask questions.”

Senior Nick Lambros delivers sports in front of a green screen at Cedar Crest High School’s television set for its “CCHS Today” news program, which won an award at the recent Student Television Network convention. (James Mentzer)

This program is a great compliment, Hassler says, to other communication efforts at Cedar Crest – including its yearbook, “The Talon,” the high school’s printed newspaper and the most recent addition, radio broadcasts between periods.

“And the one thing the kids are pushing for constantly is podcasts,” said Hassler. “We keep having kids try podcasts, and I think it will be something here that we have. That’s the way a lot of schools are going. Kids like it, they like to do it, so I can see that being something we add and the radio being involved with it as well.”

For now, however, the kids who represented Cedar Crest at the convention are basking, and rightfully so, in their latest accomplishments. 

“Just in terms of the show, in general, there is a special team here, a special thing going,” said Sheffield. “Cedar Crest came home with six awards and I think that is incredible. I think we really have something that’s so special here.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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