Brian Zimmerman celebrates the news club's win in ASHA's "Listen to Your Buds" video contest with club members Julissa Rodriguez (holding the award) and Jalyn Mitchell.
Name: Brian Zimmerman
Position: Speech-language pathologist,
Kathryn E. Cunningham/Canal Point Elementary, Canal Point, Florida
Hometown: Wellington, Florida
Most reporters work long hours or even years before getting the opportunity—if they're lucky—to interview sports stars or celebrities, let alone the president. But a group of students from Kathryn E. Cunningham/Canal Elementary School in Canal Point, Florida, already have those assignments, thanks to school-based speech-language pathologist, Brian Zimmerman.
A burgeoning powerhouse of crack reporters and videographers—all members of the news club Zimmerman created—has, in the past few years, placed first (in the age 8–10 category) in ASHA's "Listen to Your Buds" video contest; placed first in the Florida Department of Education's literacy contest; and even made national headlines in 2009 when one of the students was invited to the White House to interview President Obama. Most recently the club placed second in the 2012 Florida School Board Association's Video Contest, coming in second behind a high school club.
"I was excited to enter the ASHA-sponsored 'Listen to your Buds' video contest because it was the first time I was able to have my TV production students create a video related to my speech-language pathology job," Zimmerman said.
Although most school personnel have extra duties (monitoring halls, coaching teams, running after-school activities), Zimmerman fell into the position of KEC Canal Point news director by sheer luck. As a south Florida high school student in the early 1990s, Zimmerman had become interested in videography and broadcast journalism. In fact, he chose to attend the University of Central Florida in Orlando to study film. But once he was in the program, he realized he wasn't as happy with it as he had anticipated. He also realized film wouldn't be a very stable career and that he would "always be looking for work." Zimmerman looked for a new direction where he could help people, and found speech-language pathology. He took a few classes, got hooked, and finished his master's degree in 1998.
"I really thought it would be rewarding to help people and thought I'd be working in the health care field," he said. And he did—at first. But when he found himself driving from facility to facility he thought more about working in schools. He found an opening at Canal Point, where the principal was having a difficult time filling the position because of the school's remote location and reputation for tough students. Zimmerman jumped in with eyes wide open.
A colleague convinced him to help with the television studio, and the love for his old hobby soon re-emerged. He "pretty much had to take over the whole place," and in doing so, created the "news club." He improved the studio, launched an initiative to put the morning announcements on television rather than over the public address system, and initiated off-campus field trips expose the students in the club to outside experiences.
Zimmerman's students have interviewed circus performers, baseball players in town for spring training, Miami Heat players, and NFL players, and they even worked the red carpet at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles.
"A lot of these kids don't get to go to a lot of places," Zimmerman explained. "And with these videos or with any of my assignments, I get to be the one who introduces them to these new experiences."
Zimmerman's work in the news studio also extends to the students on his caseload. Although not all of his speech and language students are a good fit for the news club—and the programs are totally separate—several have benefited from the opportunity to go on camera.
"For many of them it's an opportunity to work on their speech and language skills as well as their ability to follow sometimes complex and technical directions," Zimmerman said. "For most of them
it's really good for their confidence and self-esteem. I've seen many of my kids really grow with this opportunity."
Contact Brian Zimmerman, MA, CCC-SLP, at firstname.lastname@example.org; view his students' videos at KEC TV's channel on YouTube.