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Langley School Opens Media Studio

Green screen enables students to create every backdrop imaginable.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, The Langley School in McLean celebrated the opening of its new state-of-the-art creative media studio.

The Ann Potter Creative Media Studio, named after Langley computer teacher and specialist Ann Potter, features three cameras, a control room, studio-quality lighting and the latest in chromakey, or "green screen" technology. The green screen can transform into a two-dimensional background.

"Whatever setting you can imagine, you can basically put yourself in," said Jonathan Merril, a Langley parent who acted as a technical consultant for the project.

The studio is available to all Langley teachers and students for special projects. Students will have the opportunity to learn how a short film or news show is created from start to finish.

"The creative media studio invites students to work together as they research, analyze, filter and ultimately tell stories from different perspectives," said Lee Nelms, Langley's Director of Technology and Communication.

Scott Pelley, a reporter for CBS's "60 Minutes," and former CBS News chief White House correspondent, spoke at last week's ribbon-cutting ceremony. Pelley, who is also a Langley parent, spoke about his career in television, and about the role that the media plays in today's society.

Ann Potter says that her favorite part of the new studio is its "potential to provide another outlet for personal expression and creativity for our students.

"It is also critical that we educate our students to understand media and realize its impact on society," added Potter.

"This tool will add a great deal of excitement to the educational experience we offer at Langley," said Langley's Head of School Doris Cottam.

THE STUDIO is a result of the collective effort on the part of parents and school faculty. When Langley parent Rita Roy overheard Nelms discussing plans to move the school's existing television studio to a new space, she suggested that Nelms call her husband Jonathan Merril for advice. Nelms called Merril that afternoon and soon plans were underway.

"I likened it to one of those television shows where you get to remake a home," said Merril. "It was a very, very collaborative process."

Langley School science teacher Tim Perry came on board to help with the setup.

"Tim has a background in lighting and design as well as science," said Nelms. "Almost everything that went into the center was something that he found on campus and re-did. He cut up a conference table and created a desk ... it's just unbelievable the stuff he did."

Surprisingly, the school bought relatively few of the components of the new studio.

"Different departments gave us different things — the Drama department gave us the lightboard, the Music department gave us the soundboard and we found other things in different classrooms," said Nelms.

THE NEW STUDIO has provided a number of creative learning opportunities for teachers and students. The seventh grade French class did an entire fashion show in French and used the green screen to project an image of a catwalk in Milan as the backdrop. The third graders developed a screenplay of "The Fabulous Mr. Fox" and projected the images of the book on the screen. The fourth graders study current events and have been using the studio as if they were actual news reporters.

"It's really neat, the kids are very excited about it, and it's all very creative," said Nelms.

This Friday, Nelms' seventh-grade students are pitching television show ideas to her and they must meet all the requirements of a real television show.

"I think that getting them to create the media that they are so incredibly immersed in for their whole lives gives them a greater sensitivity to the constraints of that media, and it allows them to look at it more critically and understand it more critically," said Nelms.

Merril agrees that media is a fundamental part of today's culture.

"The exciting thing about this type of technology for kids, is that when they are young, watching too much TV can be a bad thing, but if they understand the magic behind these things and how to create with it, it's really an incredible art form," said Merril. "It combines music and dancing, and even physics."

Nelms also has faith in the learning opportunities provided by the new media studio.

"I really believe that if you set expectations for kids, they will rise to those expectations, and this sets a certain level," said Nelms. "It's a very elegant and professional-looking environment and the kids realize that we are taking them very seriously. We are expecting great things from them."