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Lights, camera entertainment

Mark Sealey visits a California school equipped with the technology of the film and TV studio

It's just before 8.30am. The production team of Valencia TV, directed by 12th grade pupil Gerry Quintero in an adapted teachers' workroom, is preparing to go on air to almost every classroom throughout the spacious campus at Valencia High School in the large Los Angeles dormitory town of Santa Clarita.

"Will one of you guys please show me how to fix this autocue here? We're on in two minutes. I've tried everything and I still can't get it to work."

Among the trails of cables and cameras are a new audio-mixing console and digital video-editing suite. But then we are in the entertainment capital of the world. Movie-making, music and TV studios dominate employment opportunities throughout this part of Southern California - and it is the aspiration of many students here to join the crowd. Studios such as Valencia (responsible for Melrose Place and 90210) have close links with the school. And its mission now extends to helping its students acquire some of the skills and attitudes acknowledged as necessary for success.

California Arts College (CalArts) - a kind of tertiary level New York Academy for the Performing Arts, the school in Fame - is situated nearby and is closely associated with Disney Studios. Successful completion of its courses goes a long way towards the big time. Thanks largely to their competence with technology, graduates from Valencia High have been remarkably successful in getting and keeping places in this prestigious training ground. Indeed, many regular classes, such as computer animation,computer-aided art and design and digital illustration, give students as much as a year's start on their courses at CalArts, a potential fast track into Disney.

Dan Doggett is Valencia's technology co-ordinator. He shares an office in the spacious library that also houses the five servers for Valencia's extensive high-speed computer network. It is from here that he can remotely troubleshoot network malfunctions reported to him from across the campus on his pager (every classroom has a telephone).

He shares his students' enthusiasm for the high-profile technology: "Valencia was built in 1994 with the intention of equipping its graduates with all the skills necessary to find work in this environment."

Valencia High formalises its link with the local entertainment industry through an ambitious school-to-career programme. This includes work experience, job-shadowing and internships. The keystone of the programme is Valencia Enterprises, a scheme under which students provide technology services to both the school and the community on a commercial basis, and as part of their regular coursework. Students originate and oversee desktop publishing and page layout, duplicating, video and graphics production as well as World Wide Web site creation and management. Valencia attaches particular importance to the Web; some results of its extensive Webcraft work can be seen on Valencia's own site.

The HyperStudio multimedia software program is used extensively and students are skilled at composing their own work. Students can spend as much as 50 per cent of their time engaged on courses emphasising, for instance, Web design, digital imaging and multimedia. Members of senior management are also evaluating a variety of systems to deliver video, television, cable, multimedia, full audio and other data across the network.

The richness of these activities and technologies seem to be what local industry is looking for. several major organisations - including Time-Warner, Pacific Bell, PrimeStar and the local chamber of commerce - have so far contributed resources. And the management team is expanding and strengthening these links: the school hosts an annual technology fair for the community, looking at technology in areas such as recreation, information-exchange, city services in Santa Clarita and buildings and safety.

The school makes other uses of technology than in the curriculum and vocationally. A sophisticated and fully automated telephone management system, for example, allows staff (there are 80) to call in sick at any time; through its use they can arrange and then liaise with supply teachers as well as contribute detailed lesson plans. Parents are notified by the system when their children are unexpectedly absent (registration is computerised) and there is a homework hot-line where assignments for each of the six periods of the school day can be monitored from home - unless the kids get there first.

Mundane and time-consuming tasks are computerised, so the time spent on routine chores which would otherwise take time out of teaching is reduced. Enrolment, which used to take three hours per student, is now completed in 35 minutes.

Their bar-coded ID cards are regarded by Valencia's 2,000 or so students as almost as important as a driving licence. The bar-code system tracks library books, student purchases, trips and most other aspects of administration - including student counselling and some computer use, such as Internet access.

This success in dealing with the practical side of student life has generated a noticeable atmosphere of awareness and respect for the individuality of all students. The kids, by the way, did fix the autocue and their frenzy swirled out of the studio when they did - right into the exam rooms.

Valencia Web site: http:www.hart.k ca. 12.usvalencia

Other school sites are also worth a visit, particularly Hart Web at http:

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