Baltimore County students' home improvement TV

Alex Better, a junior taking the carpentry class at runtime:topic id="PEHST000097">George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, cuts a piece of wood for a project. "So Easy a Kid Can Do It," a show that airs three times daily throughout the month on the Baltimore County school system's cable network, features students and teachers from Carver and New Town High School in Owings Mills. (Lloyd Fox / The Baltimore Sun / December 13, 2011)

High school carpentry courses have given Paul "Pasha" Lippincott the skills to build a deck and a fence at his Towson home and the confidence to move ahead with a floor-to-ceiling renovation of the family kitchen.

While completing his senior year and planning to pursue construction management in college, he also has gathered enough know-how and aplomb to demonstrate basic do-it-yourself tasks on BCPS-TV.

The senior at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology just taped a segment for "So Easy a Kid Can Do It," a series that debuted Monday on the county schools' cable television channel. He appeared at ease in front of the camera as he placed ceramic tiles in a perfect pattern — "just doing what I like to do," he said.

The show, which airs three times daily throughout the month, currently features about a dozen high school students and their teachers from Carver and New Town High School in Owings Mills taking the difficulty out of home improvement with step-by-step demonstrations that can help even the most helpless complete basic tasks.

The first shows offer tips on replacing vinyl siding, patching a hole in the wall and installing an exterior door. The students square off with Mike Davis, the show's host, who drills them on prep work, appropriate tools and accurate measurements.

The mostly unscripted dialogue among host, student and teacher literally talks viewers through the project.

"This is a show where Baltimore County students give you simple home improvement tips," Davis said at a preview screening for students last week. "These kids are so skilled that I am hoping they might make a field trip to my house."

Devon Smith, also a Carver senior, said he was able to forget the camera in the background and concentrate on the job at hand.

"It's one-on-one with a teacher, just like in class," said Smith, a Monkton resident who plans to study architecture in college. "The show will help viewers really get into the details."

The students, long accustomed to discussing their tasks with their teachers, have simply taken the classroom into the television studio, which is on Carver's Towson campus.

"They can forget the camera and act like this is their class," said Eric Dodson, manager of BCPS-TV. "Mike Davis represents all of us sitting at home and wondering about the same questions."

The program taps into the "national DIY craze that is huge on network TV" and offers easy, quick fixes — but no shortcuts — in steps the average person can follow, Dodson said.

"We are highlighting what the kids are doing in the classroom," he said. "We hope to educate viewers, especially those intimidated by home improvement projects, like myself."

While there is ad-libbing, Davis includes the questions an average person might ask, Dodson said.

"I am learning a lot from producing this series," Dodson said. "I know how to repair a hole in the drywall now and I wish I had known this stuff when I put an addition on my home a few years ago."

Students and teachers rely on familiar laymen's terms and avoid industrial jargon. The shows focus on planning, safety and accuracy.

"The idea for an education channel is to show what is going on in the schools," said Dodson. "We want programming to be teachable moments for viewers as our students present what they have learned."

The show also gives parents "a really good look at what their children are doing in school," he said. "They can see kids mastering skills."

Mike Loverde, carpentry teacher at Carver, said the TV time is giving students a whole new skill set and building their confidence. They are working in front of the camera and behind the scenes in production of the shows, which each take about two weeks to put together.

"The producers have really pulled us along with these experiences that are really new to us," Loverde said.

BCPS-TV has been evolving since the late 1970s and has steadily gained in popularity, said Brian Mullen, co-producer of the do-it-yourself show. Future segments will demonstrate how to install sconces and ceiling fans and follow students through a large flooring project. The program will eventually air automotive, plumbing and weatherization segments, stressing preparation and how-to.

"You can really mess up the whole job if you don't start out correctly with the right tools and methods," Mullen said.

Dodson envisions a range of subjects, possibly an entire makeover or maybe new home construction. The Lippincott kitchen, where the carpentry student will soon be installing cabinets, might make a good road trip.

"I am a visual learner and this class helps me see how to do things in depth," said Lippincott. "I want to own my own business one day and focus on home remodeling. This class is teaching me everything from management to making a business plan. The skills I am learning will mean a decent job someday."

The TV show, he said, "gives me a chance to teach what I have learned."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

The show airs on Comcast Cable Channel 73 and Verizon FiOS Channel 34 daily at 8:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m, immediately after BCPS news.

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