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MCHS Instructor celebrates 10 years of building a national, awarding-winning program

By Thomas Sellers Jr.Calvin Class 1 Calvin Class 2 Calvin Class 3 Calvin Class 4 Calvin Class 5

Back in July 2003, then Millington Central High School Principal Nancy Norwood hired a young teacher with an extensive background in broadcast journalism.
Three principals and a new school building later, Marshonn Calvin has transformed a media department that started with old VHS cameras into a national-award winning program. Calvin’s film and broadcasting classes have produced several pieces recognized by organizations like NAACP, Regency Homebuilders and the Telly Awards. But the awards that makes Calvin the most proud over the past 10 years is the list of names who reached college citing their days in his program as a launching pad.
“There have been so many who have come through,” he said. “Wow, over the time many good ones have come through here and now they’re carrying it onto the next level. They’re doing so many wonderful things.”
Things didn’t start off so wonderful for Calvin when he arrived to his classroom which was a wood shop. Calvin said students like Sarah Brown, Jessica Atwater, Cheilon McKey and Brittany Ray were the foundation of his program.
Then in December 2004 MCHS moved from the historic first building to it’s current home on West Street. Calvin and his emerging department moved to the vocational building. And shortly after that a studio was built.
That studio came in time for the first standout in Calvin’s program Edward Jones. With his dedication in the classroom and on projects, Jones became Calvin’s first station manager.
Jones was one of Calvin’s first students to participate in the NAACP ACT-SO competition showcasing high school filmmakers across the nation in several categories. Jones’ project featuring Boy Scouts of America stood out but wasn’t good enough to take home the first prize.
But through the growing pains of students like Jones, Jonathan Lewis, Jeremy Paine-Brown and Makeshia Frazier, Calvin took the critiques and implemented into his class structure to make his students better filmmakers, producers, editors and even actors.
Then the breakthrough came for the program during the 2008-09 school year. The junior duo of Gabe O’Neal and Jordan Brooks were pushing each other with their films. And at that year’s ACT-SO awards Brooks edged his best friend and became the first top prize winner for Calvin’s program in the competition.
But Brooks wouldn’t be able to see his film advance to the national competition. One late May night in 2009, Brooks passed away from injures in a car wreck.
The death of Brooks sent shockwaves through the MCHS community and was especially hard on Calvin.
“He was like a son,” he recalled. “That was the toughest time I’ve had here by far. He had so much potential. And to see that moment with him winning, I’m so glad he had that moment.”
Calvin struggled for several months dealing with the loss of Brooks. But it was Brooks’ peers and close friends who helped Calvin make it through and ramped up the broadcasting program. As a way to pay tribute to their friend and keep his memory alive, students like Alvin Sawyer, James Richey, Stanton Brown, Randall Davis, Jasmine Brown and O’Neal created Trojan TV and dominated at the 2010 ACT-SO awards.
That group featured films like a documentary on the 1968 sanitation workers strike, behind the scenes at Memphis’ No. 1 news station Channel 5 and a Tribute to Jordan. And the program’s documentary on Haiti finished behind Oprah and Ellen in the 2010 Telly Awards.
With the bar moved up higher, recent students have added features to Trojan TV, loaded work on and are a regular presences at all MCHS functions.
Last year Calvin’s class swept the top three spots in the Filmmaking/Video category at ACT-SO with Rubin Seymore taking the top spot. His peers Quametra Wilborn and Aquito Coleman finished second and third respectively.
Seymore earned the first-place award with a feature on WMC-TV Channel 5’s lead anchor Joe Birch.
From Joe Birch to local radio disc jockey Stan Bell and former NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway, Calvin’s students have interviewed many Memphis-area personalities.  And many students have been behind the scene bringing the interviews and documentaries to life like Kevin Reilly, James Offerle, Kendrick Carter, Erius Hardaway and Chris Welch.
Welch is now the station manager for Calvin’s class. The senior said he has taken the lessons from Calvin and his peers into his leadership role.
“Last year with the crew that we had, Rubin and I were real close,” he noted. “I have that experience already with helping out. I had a big hand in those productions.
“It feels great knowing that somebody can come in here after me and try to be better than me taking this show to further levels,” Welch added. “We’re being watched.”
Some of the current students watching and learning from Welch is April Sosa. The news manager can be spotted setting up camera or working on one of the four editing systems.
“It’s not that easy as you’ll see it on TV,” Sosa said. “There’s a lot you don’t see that’s going on behind the scene. You’ve got to go from taking the audio to getting the camera ready. Making sure the color in fine on there and then after that comes the editing part to see what’s the best scene. It’s pretty hard to do.
“To me its important because this is something I want to major in for college,” Sosa added. “I want to go to school for journalism. I want to make my next product better than the previous one.”
Sosa wants to add her name to the long list of Calvin’s students who went on to college using the skills they have learned. Another pupil is station manager assistant E’naja Young. She has aspirations of taking her talents to the collegiate level.
Young has been told by her peers she has a voice and presence for television. Watching Wilborn shine with her voice-over work, hosting duties on Trojan TV or anti-bullying film Missing Faces, Young said Calvin’s class has a rich tradition.
“I’m always in front of the camera,” she said. “I rarely work behind the camera.
“It’s hard being in front of the camera being that Quametra left last year and the ball fell to me,” Young continued. “I don’t think I’ll ever amount to her because it is hard. But you have to do what you have to do.”
Young said coming to Calvin’s class has increased her leadership skills and taught her about working with others on a common goal. Welch said real-life situations appear regularly in Calvin’s classroom.
“Even if you don’t go into this field of broadcast journalism or film making, you still have the skills to be a people-person,” he noted. “You can stand up in front of a crowd and be able to talk. You can do whatever you want to do. You won’t stumble over your words. You’ll have that confidence to go out there and do it.
“It does make me feel very confident,” Welch added. “We’ve gone to Channel 5 and seen some people there who have came from this program working at news stations. We’ve seen people from  here go and start up programs in college like Rubin at UT-Martin. It makes me very confident that I can leave here and have the skills and knowledge wherever I go to be ahead of the field.”
Many of Calvin’s students in college are excelling. But from time to time, those students will reach out to Calvin to check on the program they helped build.
“They don’t ever want to see this fall apart,” Calvin said. “They’re concerned, so they check in or may even pop in from time to time just to see what’s going on. These are adults now and they want to see what we did at the high school is still important and that we’re growing.
“It’s just amazing to have this 10-year stretch,” he concluded. “I’ve seen a lot of thing happen. We didn’t have anything in 2003, not even a camera. We had a vision of what we wanted to create. The vision now is to take what we’re doing now here to where everybody can see it.”

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November 2013
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