LIVINGSTON, NJ — Members of the 2019-2020 AM Wired class at Livingston High School (LHS) are making the most of their time in quarantine by producing uplifting content that is currently reaching an audience far beyond the LHS community.
AM Wired, the audition-based television production class in charge of the live morning announcements at LHS, was given the go-ahead to not only continue streaming content when the district moved to remote learning. After making headlines on a state level for their “virtual junior prom” on March 20, the class has been more determined than ever to keep the momentum going despite being in “uncharted territory,” according to AM Wired teacher Jason Daily.
According to juniors Michelle Lichtstein, Manni Burach and Kylie Gorsky—the brains behind the virtual prom (which can be seen in its entirety below)—the entire class has been made stronger by this experience. In addition to facing the challenges of producing steady content without their usual equipment and working as a team without being able to meet in person, the students have also been made stronger by the knowledge that AM Wired has become a staple in the lives of their peers.
“When we were in school, it was up to the teachers to press that button, and we still have no control over who watches, but I think that students have found a new interest in AM Wired because it’s become a new type of normal for them,” said Gorsky. “Remote learning is a huge change for everyone, but AM Wired is a constant…You can sleep an extra 10 minutes or you can watch AM Wired, and I think our viewers have actually gone up because I think people kind of need us right now.”
Burach agreed, stating that because no one is “checking over [the students] to make sure they click that link every morning,” the number of viewers AM Wired has had during the first two weeks of remote learning has proved that “there’s a great appreciation for AM Wired” in Livingston.
“When all of our friends tell us how funny AM Wired was or the teachers tell us they loved us—even the parents or people in town who watch us on YouTube—that just shows to you that, even in a time of crisis, people are still looking for our show for comfort and stability,” said Burach. “People still want to watch us, and that fuels our drive.”
The teens added that their determination to produce unique and genuinely entertaining content every day has also been fueled by the realization that AM Wired has the potential to be a positive moment in the lives of all community members as they continue to quarantine.
“Everything about [COVID-19] has just been negative, and everyone is overall kind of depressed about all of the things being canceled, so we just wanted to make something that would make people happy,” said Burach. “[The virtual prom video] is still kind of about corona, but it’s also about prom. Prom is a happy thing, so instead of everyone waking up sad on the day of prom and seeing how nice it was outside, we wanted everyone to still smile and have a laugh.”
Initially scheduled for March 20, the LHS junior prom has been postponed with no telling of whether it will be rescheduled. But rather than allowing her peers to sulk in their rooms about the event’s cancellation, Lichtstein rallied her fellow AM Wired classmates to celebrate from home and film it for the benefit of the entire community.
After recruiting Burach and Gorsky to help her write, edit and produce the video, Lichtstein was thrilled when the rest of the class jumped at the opportunity to participate. In fact, she said, many of them went above and beyond by getting fully dressed, doing full hair and makeup and smiling as if dancing alone the living room was just as fun as the prom they might not have the chance to attend. The final product aired on their would-be prom day.
“Leading up to [March 20], each day had some kind of fun segment that people really liked, so by Friday, the entire school was actually watching AM Wired every day, which was already a big accomplishment,” said Lichtstein. “We all were really excited to do a segment that we knew would get a lot of attention; and if it got a good response, it would be really beneficial to our class and make us want to keep making these shows.”
Burach added that the final outcome far surpassed their initial expectations; but continuing to make such high-quality content from home has not been easy.
Since the class isn’t able to produce it from a live studio, Gorsky said that AM Wired “has been even more interactive” in some ways, but that “virtual learning is definitely an adjustment—especially for such a hands-on class.”
“AM Wired has definitely changed because we don’t get the class atmosphere for the morning production and during class,” she said. “But we still are a class, so although there have been some challenges, the class is getting through it together because everyone’s been really helpful and making sure that there’s enough content.”
Prior to leaving school for an extended period, the AM Wired students met to determine who would sign out equipment with the knowledge that they would need to produce at least 10 days worth of content. Now that they can’t meet in person, the students said that it’s been even more important for the class to maintain “orderly and organized” files online to ensure that they are delivering the right content on the right day.
Outside of their regular school hours, the AM Wired students are spending hours of their free time editing content and communicating with each other to brainstorm future segments.
“Sometimes it can get confusing or stressful, but I think our class has been handling it really well,” said Gorsky. “Everyone’s been working together and working really hard to make sure that the content is funny and also looks good to everyone else even though we don’t have the super high-tech equipment.”
Lichtstein added that AM Wired is a teamwork-based class; and although the class is being forced to use teamwork in a whole new way, the students continue to support each other’s content.
She also said the students are learning to trust each other more-so than ever before, as they constantly need to rely on their classmates to meet deadlines and edit each other’s segments in their free time.
“Our class as a team has just been awesome and has listened to everything that everyone else has said during this whole online experience,” said Gorsky. “Trust plays a huge role in this class. We know that Mr. Daily constantly trusts us to be good live, but now that he can’t monitor us and just checks the shows at night before they air, I think there’s a newfound trust between us and a new bond between our classmates and Mr. Daily as well.”
With a larger audience these days, and in the absence of their typical news related to school sports, clubs, plays, etc., the AM Wired students have had a unique opportunity to explore their creativity.
As the district has also allotted an additional five minutes for AM Wired each morning, Lichtstein described the new 10-minute segment as being “more like a variety show,” and their teacher has been impressed by the outcome over the last two weeks.
“I never thought that we would be able to take the show to a different level like this consistently, and that’s one of the goals that I had said to them the last couple days of school knowing that we would be off for two weeks,” said Daily. “We were lucky that administration decided to keep us in the rotation, which we felt a little pressure about, but at the same time loved the opportunity to be included…The amount of feedback that we’ve gotten has been extremely positive, and we’re just very happy that we’ve been able to reach an audience that’s even bigger than just the school district.”
Daily agreed with his students that remote learning has allowed them to revisit ideas that they couldn’t previously produce due to the five-minute time constraint.
“So many of the students that I teach are very creative writers and they come up with such amazing ideas, but I think the biggest thing they felt they’d be handcuffed by was production value,” said Daily, who has encouraged them worry less about production value and more about being as informational as possible. “We’ve been coming up with brand new segments, and I’m just very happy that they’re getting this opportunity during a very difficult time in their teenage lives.
“What I’m proud of is the fact that they’ve continued to push for such a higher level…I think the best thing that they’re going to get out of this situation with the online schooling is that it’s making them all very valuable producers.”
This new learning experience has been especially beneficial for students like Lichtstein, Burach and Gorsky, who all plan to pursue some aspect of production in the future.
“This is something all three of us want to continue outside of high school—Michelle wants to do TV, Kylie wants to do broadcasting and I want to go into film—and I think this has helped us all realize that a lot of times you don’t have access to the studio or you might not have access to equipment, but you can still produce really cool things if you communicate and use your resources wisely,” said Burach.
Gorsky added that because streaming and social media are becoming more and more prevalent in the industry, this “remote learning atmosphere” is preparing her and the rest of her classmates “from a broadcasting perspective.”
“Even if they’re not in broadcasting and they want to go into production, directing, or whatever it is, I think that online learning still gives everybody a chance to be able to see what it would be like if everything all of a sudden switched to online—because there is absolute potential that it will,” said Gorsky. “Online learning, as annoying as it could be, I think it’s beneficial to all of us because I think we’re now seeing the social media and the non-collaborative side of AM Wired.”
Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this year was been anything but typical for the current AM Wired class, which also faced adversity in the fall when the district’s servers were hacked.
Daily noted that, in many ways, the Ransomware attack “got them ready for this moment,” but Lichtstein credited the district’s television production program for preparing them to continue being successful despite the setbacks.
“Our TV program in general is just so amazing that we’re already so far ahead of everyone else that we’re able to be at home and still produce a morning announcement show every day,” said Lichtstein. “No other school can do it without the AM Wired program, so we’re still going so strongly because of the TV program and because of the class.”
Gorsky added that when the students talk about the AM Wired team, they are also including Daily and fellow TV teacher Steven Milano, who have “prepared [them] to get to a higher level.”
“Having them as the faculty members in charge of [the TV program] has helped everyone build such a strong foundation in TV 1 and TV 2, and I think that’s why the [AM Wired] program is so selective,” said Gorsky. “It’s incredible because other schools might have great programs, but I don’t know if it’s anything like this. The equipment is unreal, we have green screens everywhere—I just think the whole program in and of itself is fantastic; and then you add in the passionate kids and the unbelievable faculty and you get a program like this…
“Mr. Daily really puts that drive that we have in us; I mean, we have it, it’s there, but then Mr. Daily just ramps it up more…Even when we weren’t remote, I think that his attitude toward the class is another factor that drives the excitement and the whole production value of the program.”
Burach reiterated that because AM Wired is an audition-based class, the students selected for the prestigious program “are the kids who really want it and are so passionate” about the content being produced.
“AM Wired isn’t just a class for us; it’s a project, and it’s something that we care about and that we want to put out every day,” said Burach. “I think it’s that drive that Mr. Daily and the kids in AM Wired have and instill in one another that builds it up.”
She also stressed that even when a segment is a result of one particular student or group’s idea, AM Wired would not work without the entire class.
Lichtstein echoed that sentiment by using the prom video as an example, stating that although she, Burach and Gorsky edited the segment, the students in AM Wired “were all a part of it, and it matters to all of [them].”
“We all want everyone to watch AM Wired always—no matter if it’s something that you’re putting out or your friend is putting out,” said Burach. “We constantly give credit to the entire class. Mr. Daily’s been great about giving us this team-fueled environment, and I think that us as a team is what made this show so great.”
Although it hasn’t been “the ideal AM Wired year,” Lichtstein said these challenges have “made the class extremely close” and that she has all these “new experiences that [she] wouldn’t trade for anything.”
“Our class has had such a unique experience in that we’ve had to adapt to so many challenges, and I think it has made all of us stronger,” said Burach. “A lot of us have our own specialties—like Mr. Daily always tells us that we’re not all in the class for the same reason, some of us are great in front of the camera, some of us our great editors, some of us have great technical skills—and I think this has made all of us stronger at each our skills and at other things…I think everyone has sort of adjusted, […] and it has made us learn the importance of communication and responsibility.”
Gorsky added that she is grateful to be in a class that has been so willing to “figure out how to turn a bad situation into a better one” and also expressed gratitude toward LHS “for having this unbelievable program.” On behalf of the trio, Gorsky said that she, Lichtstein and Burach “are so grateful to have this opportunity and to have had teachers as great as Mr. Daily and Mr. Milano along the way.”
“It would be awesome to be back in the studio and send out one final live production, but as long as we’re remote, we’re just going to have to keep doing what we’re doing,” she said. “These obstacles that are being thrown our way, we don’t really have control over them, so I think this is our way of kind of taking control of the situation.
“Mr. Daily was saying to us, ‘The play was shut down, sports were shut down, restaurants are closing, but AM Wired is still running,’ so that just shows the strength of our class and the strength of the program, and I think that’s really important in a time like this. Obviously the virus is terrible, but I do think it made our class stronger. And I think the same thing happened with the Ransomware—any obstacles that get thrown at us, we are going to overcome as a class and as a team, and Mr. Daily is going to guide us through.”