COLUMBIA CITY — After a decade of providing news, insight and encouragement to students at Indian Springs Middle School, Dennis Beckner broadcast his last produced edition of WEST TV on May 30.
Since 2006, the pastor produced the show and served as a part-time teacher at the school. He substitute taught there since 2001.
WEST TV stands for Eagle Star Television.
“The W doesn’t stand for anything,” he said. “But Indian Springs are the Eagle Stars, so it’s Eagle Star Television. To just say WEST makes it sound like a direction, so we are redundant by repeating the TV after the T even though it stands for TV.”
In his 11.5 years, Beckner taught more than 1,300 students, and produced just over 2,000 episodes of the daily news show.
The story of his time at the school begins with his first day as a substitute in 2001.
“My very first call was on Sept. 11, 2001,” Beckner said. “I came into the math room in eighth grade that morning, trying to read through my stuff, and I went to the social studies teacher next door, who I knew. He always had the news on the TV, and he said, ‘Did you see what just happened in New York?’”
As the events of that fateful day developed, Beckner’s presence made an impact on the staff around him.
“The principal at the time, John Trout, came in at the end of the day, shook my hand, and said, ‘Dennis, I can’t think of a better day to have a pastor in the building,’” he said with a tear in his eye. “I guess, that was my sign from God to say that this is what I’m supposed to be doing for a while.”
He went on to substitute teach for five years until a long-term substitute job in 2006 turned into an offer to be the part-time director and producer of WEST TV.
“It seemed like the perfect fit,” he said.
But even before that, Beckner had an interest in technology and broadcasting.
“During college – I went to Manchester College – I worked as a student assistant in the communication studies department for all four professors and the radio station,” he said. “I did so much for the professor who was working on the radio station behind the scenes with production, even though I was never on the radio, that he decided I needed an FCC license.”
His passion for the inner workings of media transferred into his teaching.
“As the class continued from 2006 up until that time in 2010, that’s when YouTube was emerging as a vehicle that everybody was using and video components were in more of the web-based things we were seeing, and I knew that this is an area they should really have more exposure to” Beckner explained.
“Even though today most of them have smartphones and they know how to use video, they don’t necessarily know the history of how some of that has happened, and [they don’t know] how to use other cameras and how to splice all of that together.”
While many people would be intimidated by the thought of working with middle school youth, Beckner had a history working with youth dating back to his college days.
“I had been working with youth at church since I graduated from college so, in 1987, I was starting as the youth advisor for the Manchester Church of the Brethren, had led a regional youth conference for six years at Manchester, was speaking for youth groups, going to church camps and speaking and doing events; did a workshop at National Youth Conference,” he said.
During his time producing WEST TV, Beckner most enjoyed the wide variety of personalities he worked with every day.
“Some are quieter, some are louder, some get right to the task and others take their time,” he said.
With those personalities came some goofy times. One student in particular, Trevor Maggart, provided Beckner with a hilarious new surprise every episode.
“In one of the clips that I used on my last episode, he took his arm out of his sleeve while he was in the sports corner and put his sleeve up on the other anchor, and she was trying not to laugh while she’s reading the news.”
“The last episode of his time on air, Megan Bolinger was concluding the show and Trevor slithered over the news desk,” Beckner reminisced.
These unique interactions Beckner will miss the most.
Not only the goofy, but also the ones where students broke free from their shells.
“I remember vividly one person who didn’t want to be on camera, but one day one of the sports anchors was absent and I told him, ‘I need you to be a sports anchor today,’” he said. “Reluctantly, he came in and did it. After the broadcast, he said, ‘You know, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going be. Could I do it again?’”
Beckner’s most meaningful and rewarding memories are like this one: the tangible examples of his influence on students.
“A student that I interviewed for the last episode was a student in my first semester in 2006, who is now the general manager at Bones Theatre, has done some independent film making and said this (WEST TV) was his inspiration,” Beckner said.
Find Beckner’s final broadcast here: https://youtu.be/5ShOPpGDvtc