Class Is in Session at MSG Network

Before the Nov. 30 New York Knicks contest at Madison Square Garden, Raymond Felton sat for a pregame conversation with a reporter in the courtside interview area. 

But it wasn’t MSG Network talent Spero Dedes, Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier or Tina Cervasio posing the questions to the point guard. Rather, Kiara Harris, an 11th grader from Manhattan’s The Young Women’s Leadership Academy, held the mic.

Harris’ conversation with Felton was part of MSG Classroom, the educational program MSGN launched in 2007, in partnership with the Garden of Dreams Foundation, the non-profit charity that works with all areas of the Madison Square Garden Co. “to make dreams come true for kids facing obstacles.”

Teaming with The Children’s Aid Society, the local community organization and a Garden of Dreams partner, MSG Classroom aspires to help high school students learn the ins and outs of the TV business, and gain skills that can help them pursue future careers in the profession. Since the inaugural program, there have been 10 graduating classes (one each fall and spring semester) with more than 100 student participants in the program.

Comprising eight two-hour sessions, MSG Classroom’s curriculum has students meeting and working alongside MSG’s employees across various aspects of the RSN’s operation from production, editing and interactive, to marketing, public relations and ad sales. Alumni of MSG Classroom have gone on to pursue communications and journalism degrees in college and a number have become full-time interns at MSG Network, in production, marketing and public relations. 

An hour before her conversation with Felton, Harris and eight other MSG Classroom classmates sat in a production meeting for the net’s pregame and game coverage of Knicks-Washington Wizards. Here, the students observed on-air talent, plus producer Spencer Julien and other production staffers, going over that night's game plan. The pregame included part of Harris’ interview with Felton, as well as the conversation between former Knick and alumni relations/fan development advisor John Starks and Brandon Michael, a 12th grader from Fannie Lou Hamer high school in TheBronx. The students also spent time that night “shadowing” different MSGN personnel to get a better feel for what their jobs entail.

Longtime MSGN host Al Trautwig said that when the students arrive it can be overwhelming. “They find that it takes a lot more people than they ever thought possible to put on the telecasts. Just going out to the production truck, which is exciting, they find it’s not five people, but 50 who are involved. If the student learn anything about teamwork, communications or preparation with whoever’s job they take an interest in -- if we can give them a little career direction -- then we’ve done a good job.”

At the conclusion of the program, the students, with the aid of networks staffers, create a feature about their MSG Classroom experience, which is presented at a viewing party also attended by their families, MSGN executives and talent.

“With MSG Classroom, we wanted to do something for kids that would be long-lasting, that would give them skills and thoughts about life ,” said MSG Media president Mike Bair. “When kids watch TV they see the stars, the talent. They don’t know there are all these other positions. They find ‘I like being a writer, a producer, a camera man.’ MSG Classroom opens the windows of the world to opportunities that the never knew existed. Over the 10-week period, you see them blossom, see their confidence grow and their families are thrilled with the way they’ve developed.”

While waiting for moment and her subject to arrive in his Knicks t shirt and adidas sandals, Harris said she got to talk with Felton because she was the most aggressive in the group and aspires to be “a TV host, so this was a perfect opportunity to practice my skills.”

Asked if she was nervous, Harris said,“Honestly, yes. But I’m prepared and I think I’ll do well.”

She did. Poised and personable, Harris asked questions about Felton’s return to the Knicks, what he would be doing if he weren’t playing ball, and what he likes most about New York.  She fired off follow-up queries and said she would have to try City Crab, when Felton said it was his favorite restaurant.

Could an MSG Classroom grad wind up regularly interviewing the next generation of Knicks on MSGN? “You see some of the kids here in the hallways with internships and it feels like they are your own, or that they’ve gone off to college,” said Bair. “Nothing would please me more or make me prouder of the program than to see one of them be on our air.”

MSG Classroom Fall 2012

Kiara Harris - The Young Women's Leadership Academy - 11th grade

Brandon Michael - Fannie Lou Hamer HS - 12th grade

Noah Morton - Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics - 12th grade

Anthony Salcedo - New Heights Academy Charter School - 12th grade

Jahmorei Snipes - Talent Unlimited High School - 11th grade

Saul Soto - Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics - 11th grade

Ashley Then - City College Academy of the Arts - 12th grade

Joanna Valdez - Fannie Lou Hamer HS - 12th grade

Tiffany Zorrilla - Talent Unlimited High School - 11th grade