Garrison School Elective Course

Liz (Keifer) Convertino reviews on-camera acting technique with Garrison Middle School students. Photo: M.A. Ebner

Tech tools help Garrison students prepare for presentation and performance

By Mary Ann Ebner

Garrison Middle School eighth-grader Luke O’Connor may be preparing for his 2012 graduation, but as the calendar turns ahead with summer vacation in close range, O’Connor continues to focus on learning skills that will help him as he enters the next stage of life. Technology exists all around, and O’Connor is among a group of Garrison students who have embraced tech tools to improve presentation skills. The students have been using cameras, microphones, display monitors, and editing equipment to polish their presentation and performance abilities.

As part of the middle school’s elective courses, students are studying On Camera, which introduces them not only to the production side of presentation and performance, but gives them the opportunity to act on camera. The students know their instructor as Mrs. Convertino, but Philipstown readers may recognize her as Liz Keifer, or perhaps “Blake,” the character she portrayed on screen during a long run of Guiding Light. On the school campus, she’s Liz Convertino, wrapping up her second semester of the course which is sponsored in part by the Garrison Children’s Education Fund.

“The kids are really thriving and becoming comfortable speaking,” Convertino said. “Presentation is acting, and they’re speaking through the use of the Internet. Some of them are hearing their voice for the first time.” Convertino’s students may transfer their polished speaking skills to the stage and screen, and opportunities reach beyond acting to other arenas. These young students may go on to enter scholarship competitions as well as apply for college admissions by creating video and audio submissions, and being comfortable on camera may help applicants represent their best selves.

In class, the students critique each other from improvised scenes displayed on a large monitor.  “I started off looking everywhere,” one of the students recognized about herself on camera. “That was when I was imagining I was speaking to a preschooler,” she recalled. “When you’re talking to someone older, you want to be calm.”

Convertino sees that her students are grasping the concept of self confidence, and adds her own comments to their delivery and on-screen abilities. “Watch your hands,” she counsels, “and notice how you’re looking down. Eyes should be focused.”

Members of the class may aspire to take their talents to act on the stage and screen, or work behind the scenes to bring the magic together. “I’ve learned a lot in this class,” O’Connor said. “I love acting, and I’ve learned so much about the editing process.”

Garrison School principal Stephanie Impellittiere said there is a lot of positive movement in the elective course. “I think it’s a fabulous program,” Impellittiere said. “When students get to the middle school level they have heavy academics, but they have an interesting curiosity to explore many learning opportunities.”

 As for the teacher, experienced on both sides of the camera, she knows a good take from a bad take, both valuable learning tools. Convertino teaches her students to learn from successful takes as well as tumbles.  

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