Boston’s WGBH visits The Urban School to film teachers for educational website


Olive Lopez

WGBH producer Meredith Honig (center) gives instructions to Guy DeFeis, director of photography (left) as Lacy Clark, associate producer, checks her files just before the beginning of Mary Murphy’s Science 2A class in the Biology Lab.

Aleah Jennings-Newhouse, Staff Writer

Forget about the security cameras: Yesterday, WGBH-TV, a Public Broadcasting Station located in Boston, filmed Urban students in class as part of an educational effort aimed at helping teachers learn how to teach more effectively.

Footage of Mary Murphy’s Science 2A class during B period, and LeRoy Votto’s Civil War class during C period, will be used as part of an online resource for middle school and high school teachers called “Reading and Writing in the Disciplines.”

The footage, which will be released when the website launches in December, will join videos from classrooms around the country. The project is funded by Annenberg Learner, an educational video arm of the Annenberg Foundation, which is based in Los Angeles.

The WGBH visit was a new twist in cameras at Urban: Four security cameras installed earlier this school year were the subject of a Legend story in October.

Yesterday, however, it was teachers who were in the spotlight.

“These materials will focus on how to incorporate the new  Common Core State Standards  in literacy within the disciplines of mathematicsscience, history, and social studies, as well as those targeting English,” wrote Lacy Clark, an associate producer of the project, in an email to Kris Bailey, Urban’s director of communications and marketing. Bailey forwarded Clark’s email to the Legend.

Both Clark and Guy DeFeis, director of photography for the project, reported positive experiences with schools so far.

“It’s been amazing to see how responsive teachers have been … so much is already asked of them,” Clark said, “and they’re always willing to donate time.”

So far, producers have filmed classes in North Carolina in addition to those at Urban in San Francisco. Producers planned to travel next to southern California.

“It’s going great,” said DeFeis. “The students have been fantastic.”

With their every move tracked by a team of cameras, Murphy and Votto had an audience for a day that was greater than a class full of students.

“I was willing, but a little nervous,” said Votto.

“You become aware of every gesture,” said Murphy.

Despite their apprehension, both teachers were impressed by their students’ reaction to the WGBH filming.

“The students were really awesome,” said Murphy. “Some were more shy than normal … (m)aybe we weren’t as joke-y as usual, but once the kids were more active, they seemed more comfortable.”

“I was amazed and inspired. (The students) might have been more relaxed than I was,” said Votto, adding, “We did what we do anyways — I don’t think the filming altered the class.”

Students agreed.

“LeRoy is always pretty on point … he lets his students dictate the direction of the conversation a lot so it felt like a natural class,” said Gwen McLaughlin (’16).

But she added that her own responses were slightly different.

“I am an extroverted student … but I definitely felt pressure to formulate my ideas before sharing them,” McLaughlin said.

While bright lights undoubtedly made teaching more difficult, both Murphy and Votto felt that WGBH’s efforts were important to interdisciplinary literacy.

“I wanted to do it because I wanted to show what we do at Urban. A lot of what we do at Urban is anchored in sources and documents,” said Votto. “This makes real historians and helps students appreciate the language.”

Murphy had more concerns for the project, including, “How accessible will the final product be?”

“Are public schools going to want to see this?” she said, referring to Urban’s cutting-edge facilities and tools, and adding, “class size makes a difference.”

“It’s quite an honor that WGBH chose Urban as a model of highly skilled teachers providing a range of students an exemplary education,” wrote Urban’s Bailey, in an email to the Legend.

“The focus of the WGBH/Annenberg Learning professional development program on ‘literacy in the disciplines’ is something that educators who visit Urban always comment favorably on, so we’re glad to be given an opportunity to share our approach more broadly.”