Hands-On Experience in Broadcasting Gives Students a Leg Up

Students in Elgin, Illinois are getting a head start on learning about media production through the Broadcast Education and Communications Network (BEACON) Academy at South Elgin High School. Find out how this academy is preparing students for the future.

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The BEACON Academy gives high school students a chance to learn about communication technology and production engineering and technology through hands-on coursework. These courses that can prepare them for future careers in areas like radio and television broadcasting. Study.com recently caught up with Lisa Olsem of the BEACON Academy to find out more about the work they're doing.

Study.com: Can you tell me about the BEACON Academy?

Lisa Olsem: Our district is comprised of five different high schools, and each high school has a specialty program within it. South Elgin opened, I think it's six years ago, so we're a relatively new school to the district. Once we were established in the population, they decided to open an academy here too. It's like a school within a school.

Study.com: How do students apply to the BEACON Academy?

LO: They go through an application process, an interview process, then they provide a media submission, and then we narrow it down from there.

Study.com: How is the program then integrated with the rest of the curriculum that they have to do?

LO: Well, it's an add-on for us. In other academies sometimes it is the full curriculum, but at BEACON Academy it's somewhat like an elective, but higher level than that. It's our students' seventh class versus the six they normally take for their freshman and sophomore year. For their junior and senior year it is honors level. We looked at college programs across the nation and then backward designed the curriculum. So what we're finding is that our kids are coming out by the end of their senior year pretty much with most everything they're going to cover their freshman year in this type of program in college.

Study.com: Can these courses transfer to college credit?

LO: They are honors level, which means they're weighted heavier academically. We do have a few different specialty colleges that are articulating credit with us. For example, at the Illinois Art Institute, you can earn college credit toward that program through ours.

Study.com: What kind of school district is the BEACON Academy in? What kinds of students does it attract?

LO: We're a very big district with five high schools, and our students come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. There are 44 schools total. We cover 90 square miles. So it is a very big, very diverse district.

Study.com: Do your teachers specialize in broadcast communications?

LO: Yes. Two of the three teachers are broadcast and communications. They also have that in certification. The other one has a technology degree. Two of the teachers have worked in broadcasting previously: one was in radio broadcasting and the other actually worked for the Home Shopping Network as a programmer for many, many years, and then my third one was an engineer. They complement each other very well and they're very connected. As big as the industry is, it's also small, so they really know a lot of people throughout the industry and can provide these students with a lot of opportunity to explore and expand and learn amazing things.

Study.com: That's great. What do you find to be your biggest expenses? How will you use Study.com's donation?

LO: I'm pretty sure it's earmarked for equipment. Our biggest challenge is keeping up with technology. When we started the Academy, it was analog cameras, and now everything's HD. So we've been slowly moving that around. U46, which is our district, actually has a radio station that they started back in the '60s. It's on public access and they used to actually have a class on radio, but it pretty much went by the wayside in the '80s.

Now we are reviving it. We started broadcasting for the first time this year, utilizing that station, and we're broadcasting sporting events and things. So they've gotten the equipment to remote broadcast.

Study.com: That's a great opportunity.

LO: And then we've gotten local businesses in the area, like the Chicago Bandits, which is a girls' softball league. They hired a bunch of our kids this summer to actually live stream their games via the Internet. We purchased the equipment for that, and now we're using it to live stream our own games.

Study.com: Great! Well, I'm so glad that we can help. The BEACON Academy sounds like such a great opportunity for kids interested in broadcasting.

LO: It is, especially when you see what the kids are producing. Every time I go up there and I see something that they've done and their level of expertise that these kids are coming in with, it's amazing how far they've come. The learning curve was steep, but they have gone above and beyond.

Students of the BEACON Academy may be getting a head start on college credits for some schools, but are all high school students prepared to take college level courses?

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