Terry Cassreino had an idea. He instructed his print-journalism class to work on their yearbook spread and left the student leaders in charge of the room. He then pulled the four broadcast students who were in the class over into the library, eagerly explaining the concept brewing in his head.
“What do y’all think about a live show?” he asked the team, which included the sports director for the school newscast, the play-by-play announcer for the live-radio show and two videographers.
Cassreino pitched the idea of a once-a-month live show to promote the school’s sports programs. The students listened as he continued to explain his vision for something similar to college football shows with coaches being interviewed in front of a live restaurant audience. He told the group that he had already gotten a restaurant to agree and that he believed he could get all the remaining permissions required. The students liked the proposal and began tossing ideas about what the show could look like. Cassreino left them and went back into the classroom proud to know that his students had latched onto and taken ownership of the premise.
“They can talk about it, come up with some ideas, and come up with a prototype and a concept and some more details,” he told the Mississippi Free Press. “They spent a good bit of the period talking about it.”
This live show, The Bruin Backfield, which is set to begin production in mid-October, will make the fifth regular broadcast for students at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison, Miss., where Cassreino teaches journalism. He began advising the program in 2012 after spending more than two decades as a professional journalist. As a result of his efforts, the Journalism Education Association named Cassreino this year’s Broadcast Adviser of the Year.
“We’ve got a small school at St. Joe of probably 400 students,” Cassreino said. “Out of that, probably 15% of the student body is enrolled in the program I teach, which is a pretty big percentage.”
Mississippi Scholastic Press Association Executive Director R.J. Morgan said that this level of participation in the small school makes Cassreino’s program impressive.
“That’s an incredible percentage of that student body that is involved in student media at St. Joseph’s,” Morgan told the Mississippi Free Press. “Not all of those students will end up going into journalism, but those skills are so transferable into other areas of life … so for that percentage of the St. Joseph student body to go through that program is a real, real benefit to those students and in that school.”
Cassreino took over a fledgling program that contained only a very basic newspaper and turned it into a thriving multilayered journalism program. Cassreino earned his teaching license through the Teach Mississippi Institute at the University of Mississippi and holds a master’s degree in educational leadership.
“I started teaching eighth grade English my first year,” Cassreino said. “At the end of my first year, I was offered the journalism program, which was in a complete mess. (I) started rebuilding it from the ground up.”
Soon the program boasted a streaming radio station; a Wednesday video news update; a weekly full newscast titled Bruin News Now; a weekly sports preview called “What’s Bruin;” a live-streamed webcast of all home varsity football and basketball games; and Bruin Sports Radio, which plays on local radio station WJXC-LP Jackson, Mississippi Catholic Radio. Students produce all parts of all shows, which have won several state awards. Cassreino teaches Print Journalism, which publishes a yearbook, The Shield.
“It’s pretty impressive stuff for me,” Cassreino said. “I’ve gotta keep telling myself that these are high-school kids doing the equivalent of college-level work, and it’s pretty amazing what they do and what they know. They’re able to turn a newscast around every week.”
Cassreino received a bachelor’s degree in print and radio and television production from the University of Mississippi, which he has used to work with several state publications including a 15-year stint with the Sun Herald. He has also served as director of communications for both the Mississippi Democratic Party and the Housing Authority of New Orleans.
“The honoring organization is the Journalism Education Association, which is our national organization for high-school journalism teachers, so it’s an award from his peers nationally,” R.J. Morgan said. “It’s a big honor. I went back and looked, and it is the first major honor that we’ve had an adviser receive from JEA at the national level in state history.”
Cassreino said the honor is less about him and more of an opportunity for others to see the hard work and dedication of his students.
“I’m honored by the award, but I tell people that, you know, it’s not just about me; it’s about these kids I work with, and it’s a reflection of the kids I work with,” Cassreino said. “It’s a reflection of this school. It’s a reflection of the great education kids get out of a small school like this. It reflects the untold hours these kids put in every year since I’ve been teaching this class and the high-quality work they did. I’m telling you I would put their newscast up against any weekend newscast in town.”