Recently, Souders and his students were informed they were the most watched high school in the nation.
“It makes them nervous, but it is a good form of nervousness,” Souders said of his students’ success. “They are nervous in the sense they know people are watching them, but then it pushes them to say, ‘OK, we can’t mess up. We have to try really, really hard.’ Of course they make mistakes, but then they recover quickly.”
He added, “It becomes this constant learning process of what messed up today and how are we going to fix it tomorrow.”
The program itself recently received the 2012-13 Outstanding Career and Technical Program Recognition from the Tennessee Council for Career and Technical Education. Renny Whittenbarger, supervisor of Career and Technological Education, said the program had to meet nine levels of criteria before an evaluator visited.
These nine levels of criteria included: a student focused program; the program fully integrates rigorous, higher level academic instruction and application including, but is not limited to, mathematics, English/reading/communication, and science; postsecondary transition in place, including, but not limited to, dual credit/dual enrollment; and administrative support, among other requirements.
Tom Smith from the state education department evaluated the program. He would not say how many other schools were in the running. The award now sits on Souders’ desk facing toward the students’ desks.
Souders said the award really belongs to the students.
“It’s not my program and I tell them all the time, ‘It is not about Jon Souders and what he can do. This is a group effort.’ I can’t do any of this without their support and their help,” Souders said. “They know that and they have bought into that. This is why we are able to do what we are able to do.”
Continued Souders, “They have set their level of professionalism where mine is and they are not going to settle for a typical high school production. They want to be [like nationally known cable sports network] ESPN and they are going to do everything they can to accomplish their goal.”
He added, “It makes it easy to teach when you have a group of kids who are eating it up like that.”
Broadcasting students work on a variety of in-class projects throughout their potentially four-year stint with the program. Lessons build off of each other year after year starting with Broadcasting 1 and culminating in Broadcasting 4. Early lessons focus on editing, shooting, special effects, green screening and other tech-savvy basics.
Students are also responsible for live streaming athletic events and morning announcements.
“We are trying to get our students the exposure so if they leave here they can go to a news channel or college and be familiar with the equipment they are using,” Souders said. “The feedback we are getting from our students who have gone to the next level is that they walk into these universities and are prepared from day one. They are ready to go. They know the terminology and know what to do.”
Cleveland residents have noted the advances and their appreciation has urged the program on to greater heights.
“Our audiences says they want instant replay ability and graphics. It’s funny, once you start giving them something it immediately goes from, ‘Oh this is neat, high school sports on the computer,’ to ‘Now we want...,’” Souders said. “I think that is great.”
He said the challenge is good for his students.
“I like it because it is preparing them and giving them a leg up to be successful as they go into their careers.”
Whittenbarger said other programs are being pulled into the broadcasting discipline.
“[Souders] realized the importance of the other areas of academics that are tied into broadcasting, like journalism ... He tells his students broadcasting is not just a matter of knowing terminology. It is how you conduct yourself, your cosmetic appearance, your grammatic skills — he really reinforces that,” Whittenbarger said.
The cosmetology class has also been asked to do make-up for the anchors prior to morning announcements.
“Now the broadcasting class is going to team up with the marketing class to learn what it takes to get advertisement to support you financially,” Whittenbarger said. “It is amazing what these kids are getting. They are not getting a snapshot of broadcasting, they are getting the full spectrum.”
He said the key to the program’s success is how Souders has looked at the whole spectrum.
Souders aimed the praise at his students. He said his students work just as hard, if not harder, than he does.
“I am at least getting paid to be here, they are not. I have a couple of students — Eric Powers is one — who literally live here with me during sports season,” Souders said. “He is here after school until 8 or 9 o’clock at night hooking up equipment.”
Broadcasting students were willing to donate weekend time to help build the morning announcement’s current set. The old set was comprised of several chairs and a green screen. Their reward was a job well done and pizza.
Souders said part of the program’s success is the support provided by the school’s faculty and administration.
“You have to have that support to make it happen. Mr. Whittenbarger came in a year and a half ago, and that support he has given us has made us go,” Souders said. “We’ve wanted to do this stuff before when we did not have the support to make it happen. Now we have this support which is unprecedented.”
Continued Souders, “You can have ideas all day, but to have someone supporting and pushing you is a relief. He has a really big part in all of this.”
Whittenbarger said he is proud to have Souders on staff at CHS, and in 24 years the broadcasting teacher can retire.
“He is a very humble guy, very dedicated, very passionate and willing to think outside of the box,” Whittenbarger said. “He has brought this program to unimaginable heights. I never would have dreamed he would achieve what he has in a very short amount of time.”
Whittenbarger and Souders are working to provide further opportunities for broadcasting students at CHS.
“We are looking at some new avenues, possibly teaming up with some local TV stations to get internships for our students so they will have a real world experience,” Whittenbarger said. “We are looking at live streaming other events beside sporting events.”
Continued Whittenbarger, “Mr. Souders and I have talked about showcasing academic achievements, club achievements, and others.”
An articulation agreement with Chattanooga State will allow students to receive college credit and talks have recently begun with Lee University’s Telecommunications department.
“[The broadcasting students] are very excited,” Souders said of their recent successes. “Generally, that is how they all are. They know they are a part of something much bigger than themselves.”