Troy University and TROY TrojanVision surprised Banks School journalism students with an early Christmas present Tuesday afternoon with the donation of multiple cameras and other broadcast equipment.
TrojanVision TV Manager Aaron Taylor said he had the idea to donate the studio’s surplus equipment after LaToya Gay, a 17-year English teacher, reached out for advice on the best camera equipment to purchase within the elective’s budget.
“There’s a long relationship between Banks and TROY’S journalism program. LaToya has brought her students here for the better part of a decade to tour, do mock newscasts, participate in J-Day…so there’s an established relationship,” he said. “Although good, the budget that was given to her would not have gotten her a significant amount of quality broadcast equipment. The wheels started turning in my head at that point.”
After upgrading to a new camera model a few years ago, the studio had a surplus of extra cameras, microphones, camera lights and other equipment that was no longer in use. Having already donated the news desk to Banks’ journalism class several years ago, Taylor sought approval to donate once again.
“I said, ‘We’ve got this school in our backyard that we have an established relationship with who wants to improve their program. I’d like to be able to give them this equipment because they’re not going to be able to get this quality of equipment with the budget they have,’” he said. “The University had more to give than she asked of us, and we’re happy to do that. That’s the type of relationship this University has and needs to continue to have with this community and our local students.”
On Tuesday, Taylor set up four video cameras, four microphones, four tripods and four camera lights inside the auditorium of Banks School to surprise the class. Eight camera batteries and six battery chargers also found a new home at Banks.
Gay, a former Trojan basketball player who graduated with a degree in education in 2005, has taught the journalism elective for almost 10 years. She said she knows this equipment will help make her students’ newscasts even better.
“I’m very thankful and very excited. I’m just ecstatic, and I know the kids are excited,” she said. “This is a huge help to us. Thank you to Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Aaron Taylor and the journalism department and anyone else who was involved for thinking of our small program and making these resources available to us. We will put them to good use, and I know that the students will benefit from it.”
Journalism programs have become a common elective for many high schools across the country, but not so common in middle schools. Gay said teaching students how to be good journalists early in life sets them up for success in many areas.
“Journalism teaches them a lot of skills, like how to communicate and how to communicate with adults, specifically, because a lot of the interviews they do are with adults. As an English teacher, the writing skills they learn are so important since they are writing their own stories,” she said. “It also helps students who like to be behind the camera learn how to troubleshoot and problem solve.
“Our students have taken on a lot of responsibility. I’m a classroom teacher first, so a lot of times if pictures need to be taken or something needs to be filmed, I can’t go along with them. I have to trust they’re doing what they need to be doing.”
Bobcat News is entirely student-produced and runs monthly on Gay’s YouTube channel. The group also attends J-Day every year and came in third in the Best News Coverage category along with being the only middle school in attendance.
“I judged J-Day entries this year so I’ve seen what they do, and for the age range those students are, it’s good quality for what they have. They do a lot of things the right way, and the issues they’re having are things this new equipment is going to remedy,” Taylor said. “I hope the students enjoy the experience of being able to use this kind of equipment and being able to expand their capabilities. I know it’s a fun thing for them right now, but this fun thing can become a successful profession.”
Abigail Griffin, a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Troy, was one of Gay’s early journalism elective students and recalls editing camcorder footage using iMovie.
“I remember when I was a journalism student here helping produce Bobcat News, and all we had was a little camcorder. We didn’t even have what they have now, so to see it grow bigger as more students come through means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s where I started, and it’s where some of these students now may get their start. Getting to use these big cameras and the lights makes it feel really real, and I feel like that’ll get more kids interested.”
Now with a host of journalism classes under her belt, Griffin said the things she learned in Gay’s class have come back to her.
“When Ms. Gay started her journalism elective, I was immediately interested. Initially, I joined so I could go to J-Day, but once I started getting into it and being able to share people’s stories and give them a platform, it really caught my attention,” she said. “Once I got to TROY and started taking classes, I realized a lot of the things Ms. Gay talked about really have to do with real life. It’s insane how the stuff I learned in the seventh and eighth grade has carried with me to college.”
Ruben Hernandez, an eighth grader at Banks and a part-time anchor for Bobcat News, said he’s excited about having new technology to learn.
“I like working with the cameras because I like coding and learning more about technology,” he said. “I’m excited about having this new equipment to learn about and work with.”
The son of Rosa and Jorge, Hernandez said he’s especially interested in architecture, history, English and coding—and also might like to be a pilot one day—but what captured his interest in journalism is getting to share information.
“I like the fact that you can give information to people so they’ll know everything that’s going on,” he said.
Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools, said he’s appreciative of the longstanding relationship between Banks and TROY and is excited to see how the students use the equipment to better their program, and their product.
“I’m very appreciate of Troy University, not just because of this partnership but for all the partnerships we have with TROY,” he said. “The fact that they’re making this contribution to our journalism program here is outstanding, and it’s going to mean a great deal to these kids. The journalism program has grown every year, and I’m so excited for these kids to be in a new facility and to have this new equipment. It’s only going to make the program bigger and better.”
Taylor and several Hall School of Journalism and Communication faculty and staff will be spending time at Banks teaching students how to use the equipment and how to better themselves as journalists.
Photos of the presentation can be viewed here.