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Great Neck South Middle School TV Production Program Going Strong For Over 60 Years

GREAT NECK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Forget boring public address system announcements in homeroom – at one Long Island school, students are learning the craft of television and reporting the news to their classmates.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported, each morning at Great Neck South Middle School, a unique broadcast club gathers voluntarily an hour before classes start for the day. They write, edit, produce and report the news that matters to 12- and 13-year-olds and their teachers.

"Students are working immediately starting at 7:30 to get all the stories together; all the graphics together; making sure the crew is here; making sure the set is set up; the lights are up," said Ben Ratner, a teaching assistant who attended Great Neck South for middle school himself.

"It's a lot of fun and I love it so much," said one of the students.

Indeed, Great Neck South has something special going with its GNPS-TV program – the letters stand for Great Neck Public Schools.

The program is far from new. In fact, Great Neck South is believed to be America's first public school with a professional TV studio, circa 1952.

Since then, the program has instilled students with confidence, creativity and calmness under pressure.

"Can you imagine that? In the 1950s, a teacher saying we need a television program in a public school?" said Robert Zahn, director of educational TV for Great Neck Public Schools. "And it is a program that has lasted over 60 years."

Following two rehearsals, the students go live to all 1,000 members of the school community. Much like one might see at a real-world broadcast TV station, the students run the TelePrompTer, print out rundowns, edit graphics and develop backgrounds – among other responsibilities.

Those in front of the camera are completely dependent on their fellow students in the control room and on the floor as stage managers. School principal Dr. James Welsch even has a cameo each day, and reminds the students of the legacy of which they're a part.

As a matter of fact, CBS2 figures into that legacy.

"In the mid-70s, WCBS-Channel 2 News came and did a story about our then-fledgling television station, and Jim Jensen – he's the anchor that I remember. "And we have that footage, and it's so exciting to know you're back 40 years later to see what's happened."

In 1973, Paul Dandridge reported for CBS2 on the students who produced the 8:30 a.m. report at Great Neck South.

Great Neck South TV Production: 1973
Michael Barnathan appears as an anchor in a 1973 CBS2 report on the TV production club at Great Neck South Middle School. (Credit: CBS2)

"Instead of Watergate or Brezhnev, news of the conservation or radio clubs leads this newscast," Dandridge said in the report. And the students back then said the process wasn't as easy as it looked.

"You know, on television, they just flash on the story and there it is," said then-Great Neck South reporter Jim Tornatore. "But when you actually go out and get the people to do it -- you actually go out and, like, try to arrange the story -- you can't do it. It really gets to you, because it gets crazy after a while when nobody wants to cooperate."

But there was plenty of excitement involved back then too.

"There's sort of a thrill involved – when you get up here and everyone, besides being a little nervous, there's a certain thrill about having the cameras on you, and everyone getting ready, and getting ready to put on the show. It's exciting," student anchor Michael Barnathan said in the 1973 CBS2 report. "Every once in a while someone makes a joke and asks for your autograph."

And Barnathan grew up to be a man whose autograph is likely in demand for real, as a Hollywood film producer who has worked on the first three "Harry Potter" films and other blockbusters. Many other students from the 1973 report also went on to produce and direct Hollywood films.

As for the current Great Neck South students, they said they wanted McLogan's job.

The Great Neck South students also produce a live radio show that is broadcast into homerooms before and after classes.

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