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Western Albemarle High School English Lesson

On March 2 & 3 I had the privilege of being a guest instructor for two Western Albemarle High School English classes. The original concept was to have the students learn editing skills by writing a commercial or public service announcement with a final length of just 60 seconds when read aloud.

I thought it would be fun to bring a professional broadcaster along with me to read the finished products. Jim Hanchett, news director and news anchor at Charlottesville Newsplex (CBS19, ABC16 and WAHU FOX27), and Crozet resident, was pleased to be asked and accompanied me to Nancy Hiles-Johnson’s Tuesday morning class. Jim shared the importance of knowing how to get to the point when writing for television, as his reporters often have to edit their news stories down to 30 or 60 seconds. He also spoke about writing skills as they relate to getting a job through the first impressions of a cover letter and concise resume.

Good thing Jim is used to thinking on his feet, as it quickly became more of a creative writing exercise, with us coaching the students on possible topics and offering suggestions on how to best sell their ideas to an audience. The finished commercials were diverse: a service to drive intoxicated people home; a heavy metal concert; help for Haiti, and so on. I think the students were amazed at how great their commercials sounded when Jim read them as a professional would. I’m not sure the words “five-fingered death punch” have ever left Jim’s lips before! What a sport.

The next day, wiser from having experienced the first class, I returned with Jay James, sports director at NewsRadio 1070 WINA. Jay spoke about the need to be a good communicator no matter what path you take in life, and then immediately upped the ante by offering a pair of tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters next week to the author of the best-written commercial. Once again, the topics chosen ran the gamut: from mud-bogging, to the SPCA, roller coasters and horseback riding.


The class appreciated the fun Jay had reading their work. You may need to turn up your sound.

All the ads were wonderful and it was VERY hard to pick just one winner, but the ad for Mint Snuff edged out the others. Jay later managed to get another pair of tickets for the student who wrote a very descriptive ad for a new roller coaster at King’s Dominion.

All in all, the classes were a success: when students have fun with a writing assignment and then have their work performed by a professional, it is a winning formula. Nancy Hiles-Johnson is already talking about reprising this effort with her other classes later in the year. I had no problem playing “straight man” to Jim and Jay, and I’d love to do it again.

Many, many thanks to Jim Hanchett and Jay James for their willingness to volunteer their time. Their presence showed the students that successful professionals care enough about them to spend their valuable time with them. Jim and Jay helped demonstrate that writing skills have a practical use in real life in a very fun and memorable way. You will notice that Jay wore his Live United shirt to the class. To Live United means to Give, Advocate and Volunteer. Jay and Jim showed that they don’t just wear the shirt, they live it.

Posted by Kim Connolly.

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