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Getting Air Time: Warren Township Prepares Students for Real World Success

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Back to School Bus Tour rolls through the Midwest this week, below we take a look at a neighboring Race to the Top – District grantee that is helping kids prepare for success by giving them real world media experience.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

For most kids, it’s a difficult question to answer—the possibilities are almost endless. But students in the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana are getting a head start on exploring at least one career path. That’s because Warren Township runs an innovative program called Frontrunner Media that gives students hands-on, real-world media experience while they are still in high school. Frontrunner is supported in part by the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Race to the Top – District (RTT–D) program. Below, the program’s managers and director discuss how it works.

OII: How did all of this get started?

Dennis Jarrett, Production Manager for Frontrunner Media: Our district started with a great existing resource—the Walker Career Center, which provides training for a variety of careers, including media. We wanted to provide high-school students with opportunities to get practical experience in media production and video communications.

OII: Have students gone on to specific careers in media?

Dennis: We set students up with paid internships. In the production industry, it’s a huge deal to get a paid internship, because most internships in the industry are non-paid. We had two students do over 400 hours of work this summer for a not-for-profit here in the Indianapolis area serving as professional videographers.

Cindy Frey, Walker Career Center Director: The assistant production manager for Frontrunner is a Warren High School student who was in our earlier broadcast programs. How neat to bring back one of our own graduates to serve such an important role in Frontrunner! Kids can see themselves in these positions when people on our staff say that they sat exactly in the seat you are sitting in. That’s a big benefit.

Dennis: We were also hired last year to videotape the commencement for two high schools in a neighboring district. We were able to collaborate, and trained the students at [the other] schools to use the video equipment. We’re not just impacting our school, but also our community and neighboring districts.

At Gen Con [an annual Games conference in Indianapolis, considered the main U.S. game convention] this year, there were about 60,000 people, and we were hired by local production companies to provide all the video support for that, including streaming video for the client.

Our students are an integral part of that experience. We’ve done that event two years running, which says to me that we are delivering the quality of service that the clients expect for the money they are paying. They are all high school students who get the opportunity to work with media professionals. We like to see it as a win–win–win for everyone involved.

OII: Your four-year RTT–D grant ends in 2016. How will you make sure that the program is sustainable beyond the grant period?

Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, Assistant Superintendent, RTT–D Program Manager: When we wrote our RTT–D application, we thought about sustainability, and we knew we couldn’t provide wonderful opportunities for students and then take them away. The initial funding from RTT–D allowed us to get our name out there, build relationships with clients and establish a fee-based business that will be sustainable beyond the grant period.

Dennis: The vision for Frontrunner probably came two years before we received the RTT–D grant. We loved the idea at the time, but there was no way for the district to underwrite it. The RTT–D grant is really the reason that Frontrunner exists. It’s the main reason we are able to offer these opportunities for kids.

Click here to learn more about Frontrunner Media — and check out the video library here!