FORT WAYNE – David Ward is standing in front of a landscape of pure neon green – one large green wall is behind him, a green mat is below his feet.
But to the class of teens at New Tech High School, watching Ward by video from their classroom, hes standing outside the McMillen Center.
Then in an instant hes in the McMillen Center lobby.
In another, the background morphs into a graphic that lists some of the dangers that come with smoking.
Ward, health educator at the McMillen Center, demonstrated the centers new green screen technology Wednesday, which the nonprofit hopes will help reach more youths with messages about health and safety.
And its especially apt to have now, during a time when schools are cutting budgets and taking fewer field trips, McMillen Center CEO Holli Seabury said.
If we want to reach students today with a health message, we have to go to them, she said.
The center has been using video conferencing since about 2005, Seabury said, but it has all been done in a cramped and hot studio.
An instructor in that studio could literally stretch his or her arms out and touch each wall. There was only room to film someone from the chest down, and the lights made the temperature sometimes unbearable.
If you did a video about exercise, and you touched your toes, your head would disappear from the screen and the kids would laugh, said Linda Hathaway, program manager at the center. Then youd laugh and youd feel stupid.
With an $80,000 grant from the McMillen Foundation, the center created an entirely new and spacious studio and bought the green screen technology.
The green screen tech – which is exactly what weather broadcasters use on the TV news – allows instructors to do more interactive presentations through video conferencing.
Officials hope it will also keep the center competitive with other similar nonprofits that produce educational programs.
Seabury said the McMillen Center reached about 600 students the first year it used video conferencing.
Last year it reached 8,000 students.
We can come right to you in your classroom, whether youre three miles down the road or in northern Canada with 3 feet of snow on the ground, Seabury said.
The most popular programs teachers have been requesting from the McMillen Center are ones dealing with texting and driving, cyber-bullying and sexting – the latter of which has become a major concern for middle school administrators.
There are also other programs, though, from healthy eating to smoking to sexually transmitted diseases.
Many of the topics are maybe ones a teacher is not prepared to teach, or maybe they want an expert voice, Seabury said.
And with the green screen technology, instructors at the center can now drive whatever message they have home more effectively.
Now with the power of special effects.