West Potomac Academy revamps TV program

The West Potomac Academy provides students with opportunities to take advanced, specialized classes in communications and the arts. The Academy is one of five high school academies in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

The Academy’s mission is to provide opportunities for students to explore career interests and acquire academic knowledge related to their future careers. Programs allow students to gain competencies needed to enter their desired field or to begin postgraduate study. The Academy is funded through the federal Carl T. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which is designed to support school-to-work initiatives in high schools and adult education programs.

The Television Production Program is scheduled as a double period every day, allowing the Academy to provide an extensive curriculum where students can experience the latest technology and gain media skills and knowledge.

Students usually start their career program in their junior or senior year. Many continue their education after high school at two or four-year colleges while some go directly to full time employment in a field related to their study at the Academy.


Seven years ago, Fairfax County selected television production as the focus of the West Potomac Academy because, “It’s the way that we communicate now...We have to teach it to the students to make that next generation of graduating seniors capable of participating in that field. And you can’t do that by teaching theory,” explained Nancy Mantelli, Professional TV Production Instructor.

“I tell them, you can watch YouTube videos or you can make YouTube videos, so why don’t you go ahead and make them and make them beautiful?”

Nancy Mantelli, Professional TV Production Instructor

Currently using Avid’s Pinnacle software, Mantelli is getting new state-of-the-art Avid® Media Composer® workstations for fall 2009 classes. The choice to use Avid was made after doing the research on available products. “One reason is that students wanted industry-standard equipment,” noted Mantelli.

The Professional TV Production class that uses the Lab has a set curriculum. Mancelli believes that students have to learn to work on the Avid equipment if they want to get a job in the field. Just as important as learning the technical skills, is learning the science and math behind them. Mantelli stated, “I don’t just teach white balance, they have to learn about light waves and prisms…They have to learn about cameras—the difference between a one chip camera and a two chip camera. They have to learn about sound waves and the physics of that and the math of focal points, f-stops and apertures.”

Project-based Learning — Professional Workflow Process

The curriculum is project-based and very hands-on. All students have to complete four projects:
• a commercial
• a public service announcement
• a news story
• a film

Students also have the opportunity to do projects in animation and talk shows, and as part of their study, all students are required to compete in a contest.

The TV Production Program also provides services to Fairfax County Schools, creating a video archive of all plays, concerts, and other school activities.

Pre Production
- Brainstorm idea and evaluate viability. Assign student teams.
- Select and write treatment. Draw storyboards.
- Create shot list and scout locations. Create prop list and acquire. Secure actors/readers/crew.

- Begin shooting. Assure all shots/angles and mark off each scene completed.
- Review footage and evaluate. Reshoot as necessary.

Post Production
- Capture footage.
- Begin editing.
- Add music, sweeten audio and add credits.
- Review final footage and tweak as needed.

Student Profile

Gloria Powell excels in the arts, especially theater and Professional TV Production.

“Gloria approaches each video project with a sense of professionalism that is rare in her age group,”
states Mantelli.

One of the projects she produced this year (2008-2009) was a news project for C-SPAN about teaching intelligent design in school. She, along with three other girls, also produced a five-minute film on the theme of “Teen Decisions”. They won first place in a student film festival judged by three industry professionals.

Another project she produced was a 30 second public service announcement about literacy. As Mantelli describes it, “She used no words, just music and acting, and she won second place and $300 for our classroom in a county wide video contest for students called Video Fairfax”.

Gloria is graduating next month and is headed to Regent University in Virginia for film studies. See her work at:


Of her graduates, Mantelli says, “Some of my students take AP or honors classes and many excel in the creative arts. I do have kids who go on to college, but it may be a two-year college or a trade school. Last year I had six go to film school—some kids take it and they fall in love with it.”

Recently, Leighton Good, a student at the Academy won an honorable mention award for a C-SPAN project. This is an international contest with 20 countries represented and over 2,000 entrants. The project was: “Mr. Obama, this is the most important problem facing your administration today.” This student picked the incarceration rates in our country. Noted Mantelli, “He did the research, interviewed great people and edited it all on Avid.”

Leighton will be going to Penn State in the Communications program this fall.

© 2009 Avid Technology, Inc. All rights reserved. Avid, Avid Media Composer, and the Avid logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Avid Technology, Inc. in the United States and/or other countries. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.