By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

The Killeen Independent School District can broadcast live on its own television station from campuses and other buildings throughout the sprawling district.

All it took to make the new leap of broadcast capability were two little boxes – highly technical little boxes that encode and decode signals to provide programming throughout the schools.

The school district's Channel 17 television station debuted its new live remote capability Monday at Clarke Elementary School at Fort Hood, where author/illustrator Scott Sutton demonstrated his drawing technique to students assembled in the school cafeteria.

While KISD technicians operated three cameras in the cafeteria, media technician Brad Retz operated the audio and switching equipment backstage.

Among the screens and switching equipment was one of two little black boxes – an encoder/decoder – making the live broadcast possible.

Channel 17 station manager Randy Hudson and Retz wrote a grant application that resulted in a Killeen ISD Education Foundation grant that purchased the coding devices to bring live television to KISD schools. Bentina Homes provided the donation for the grant.

While Sutton completed his drawings, provoking laughter from students and staff in the audience, a few educators considered the many possibilities of locally produced live television within the Killeen ISD.

The school district has a television studio at its Jackson Professional Learning Center in the middle of Killeen, but Sheila Donahue, fine arts director for the school district, said presenters like Sutton prefer a live audience to a sterile studio.

The new technology will allow performers from artists to singers to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra to take advantage of live audiences and the acoustics of high school auditoriums.

Someone like Sutton who provides a humorous systematic approach to drawing figures opens up new opportunities to educate students.

The 30-minute presentation in the elementary school cafeteria will be replayed on Channel 17. It will also be available on DVD for teachers and will be available internally through a KISD podcast server.

Plans are also under way to produce a DVD of stories featuring out-of-print Sutton characters called "the cucumber kids."

Live programming plans are under way to use the district's long-term partnership with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, too.

Instead of busing elementary students to a high school auditorium to hear the symphony, the school district may produce a live broadcast in one of the auditoriums that could be accessed throughout the school district's 45 schools.

That sort of use would save time and money for transporting students and expand the potential audience, which is especially attractive considering the technology comes through a foundation grant and not from the school district's budget.

The technology is housed in two encoder/decoder boxes. One is used at the remote location, while the other is used at the television station on Abercrombie Drive.

The devices work together to code the video signal and convert it to a data stream that is transmitted point to point over the school district's computer network, Hudson said.

"Anywhere in the district we can plug in, make a switch and we're live on Channel 17," Retz said.

Loretta Solliday, a KISD content and engagement specialist, watched the initial broadcast at Clarke while she considered possible academic uses for the future.

Many schools bring in presenters for Earth Day or to demonstrate science experiments, she pointed out.

Schools feature presenters about bullying and making positive choices during Safety Week. Specialists from NASA, the Mayborn Planetarium at Central Texas College and many other groups bring their expertise to schools throughout the school year.

As long as the presentation is at a Killeen ISD school or building and accessible to the district's network, live broadcast is possible.

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