“Quiet on set!”

Outside the door the red “Filming” sign lights up and silence drops on the studio as all attention turns to the student sitting at a desk in front of a brightly lit green screen.

And with that, the filming of A360 News is underway.

The weekly news and information program, which runs throughout the school year, is the product of Academy360 Upper School’s film studies classes, where students in twice-weekly sessions learn the ins and outs of bringing the show to life.

The classes, which are open to A360 students from 9th grade to age 21, cover basic filmmaking, including using cameras, microphones, lighting and green screen filming. Students are required to help with A360 News’ pre-production and production skills and are also expected to learn the basics of video editing, using Adobe Premiere.

The idea of producing a news program was suggested nearly 8 years ago by then principal, Lynn Muir, who thought the activity would be a great outlet for creativity, to reinforce life skills and give students an all-important typical high school experience.

The program, now in its eighth season, initially consisted of three segments – news, weather and birthdays – but quickly grew.

It just took off,” says David Diianni, the director of FilmAcademy360, who also oversees Academy360 Lower and Upper schools film classes.

David and other Upper School administrators recognized early on that producing the program catered particularly well to the learning styles of individuals on the spectrum. The weekly repetition of studio tasks and responsibilities helped students master the technical skills as well as the social skills necessary in everyday life. David points out how making eye contact, modulating vocal tone and volume, and correct posture are all as important when interacting in the community as they are on camera.

The results were overwhelmingly positive, Lynn enthuses. “Evidence that the experiment worked can be seen in just how many students participate now — it’s tripled, if not more.”

The most obvious impact was on students’ speech and language development, and the improvement in working collaboratively and connecting with others was also successful. But it was the transformative effect on many students, bringing them out of their shell, that thrilled both educators and parents.

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To reach Thursday’s all-important “Action!” stage, the work begins earlier in the week, with students choosing the subject they’d like to present from a white board hanging in the corner of Academy360’s updated studio which opened as part of the school’s expansion in 2019.

News program standards lead the list: current events, sports, weather reports. But there is also a wide-ranging list of topics from movie and video game reviews, cooking, ASL and Travel phrases of the week and more, plus the popular NJ Diner Of The Week profile.

To prepare for their segment, students write their scripts, either on their own or with assistance from staff. This is a case where differentiated instruction comes in, as each student has a different set of linguistic challenges — some written, some verbal. Instructors find a way to assist individuals in a way that works best for them.


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“Places everyone!” The A360 news crew and Assistant Instructor Alyssa Currey gather on set.

As each student presenter takes their place behind the desk, they position themselves for the camera — “Sit up straight,” calls Alyssa Currey, assistant instructor. “And remember, hands folded!” Everyone involved in filming takes their places around the camera. Students learning how to operate the camera and lights stand at attention. They run through lines a few times and then they’re rolling.

David circles the room, watching the filming from every angle and offering encouragement and advice to the on-camera presenter and tips on voice projection and presentation. Alyssa and fellow assistant instructor Vincent Lissandrello oversee behind-the-camera action and guide those participating in the technical side of creating the show.

The mood in the studio is collaborative and upbeat, as each person applies themselves to their assigned task under the supervision of film studio staffers.

The goal is to teach students to be as self-directed as possible and to encourage personal development. Students who are not on or behind the camera quietly wait their turn while others occupy themselves on the studio’s three student computer workstations.

David W., a 16-year old Upper School student, is excited about his weekly time in front of the camera. He loves to take charge of his segments and really make them his own, say instructors, writing scripts and reporting on his favorite subjects: movies, entertainment and video games.

David confides, “I get to embrace my confidence doing the acting behind the camera, read all my lines and make my own reality come true.”

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The work doesn’t end once the studio lights go down. After A360 News participants help write their scripts, appear on camera and assist in filming the program – they then move on to the all important editing.

The final edit of the show is perfected by studio staff, but every student learns at least the rudiments of editing, so they each can see their work through to completion.

Students participate in every step of producing the program, but for some, it’s the editing that engages them most.

18-year old Barnel P. is one such student. His interest and skill in creating segments using Adobe Premiere inspired him to enroll in FilmAcademy360’s weekend program. He’s writing his own movie script right now, which he hopes to start filming soon.

“It’s just incredible to see the change in Barnel from when he first joined us — a shy, soft-spoken kid — to this incredible young man,” says Lynn. “He is flourishing, outgoing and gregarious. And all of this confidence has comes from being in the film program and his successes in it.”

He and fellow film studies student, Angelina P., already have a big achievement under their belt. The duo took first place in a video contest this past October sponsored by Advocates for Children of New Jersey to create a short video telling candidates in the upcoming election about the issues that are important to them and the issues facing their communities.


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The A360 News episode of  Friday, December  1, 2023


A360 News is uploaded each Friday afternoon to its YouTube channel. For the staff who guide students in producing the project, the sense of pride and accomplishment they feel is what drives them.

Alyssa, the assistant instructor, says seeing students blossom is everything. She brings up her experience with one student who didn’t read very well and was somewhat introverted, but who “lit up like a light bulb” once he appeared on camera. “‘I did that!’” he told her.

Parents also are thrilled seeing the results of their children’s hard work. The film studies class and A360 News give parents the opportunity to see and to show off their child’s accomplishments. Many parents exclaim how happy they are to see their children achieve in areas they hadn’t expected and to witness the pride they have in their work.

“Parent reaction is one of the greatest things,” says Lynn. “They are so elated to see their children on camera, and to see how we have found a way for students at all levels to have typical school activities to participate in.”

“The news program is unique to our type of special needs school,” says program director David. “It reflects the mission of Spectrum360 that we give every opportunity we can to our students without restricting them. These classes and our film program helps students in so many ways and also introduces themself to the world in a positive fashion.”

“It increases their self-esteem,” David adds. “when they are viewed at their best by friends, other students, teachers and especially their families.”

What does his family think of his TV activities, David W. is asked.

He beams, “My parents are always proud of me.”

More stories about film studies at Spectrum360:
A360 Lower School “Morning Announcements” delivers smiles, builds skills

Learn how you can make an impact and about our programs by visiting spectrum360.org