“The way I run the classes is the way you would run a media business,” said Audrey Miller, an instructor at Oceanside High School for the past 31 years — the last 10 of which she has spent teaching introductory and advanced broadcasting and video production. She said that in her classes, the students experience hands-on lessons that emphasize teamwork.
The approach appears to have worked, with numerous former students currently working in the field.
“The opportunity for them to express themselves applies here,” Miller said. “You can be passionate about math, but there are rules . . . With the media, the rules are always changing.” In Miller’s class, there are no grades — it’s pass or fail — depending on whether the finished product is “showable” or not.
Even if the students do not make a career out of the course work, she said, she believes they still take with them valuable professional knowledge. For those who do find a passion in media through her class — whether in music, film, radio or TV — Miller said, “I just help them find their voice.”
The film producer
Michelle Purpura, OHS class of 2011, graduated with honors from SUNY Old Westbury in 2015 with a bachelor’s in media and communications. She worked on “The Bill Cunningham Show” in 2014, and a production for Womenworking.com in 2015.
Currently, she is the post-production supervisor and associate producer for Cabin Creek Films, a position she has held since 2016. Additionally, she freelances with her own company, Hand to Heart Productions. Purpura has participated in projects that have earned awards and premiered at film festivals, such as Sundance.
“I had a pretty wild experience in high school because I was able to start my film career,” she said, adding that she took as many of Miller’s classes as possible. Purpura was inducted into the OHS Hall of Fame in 2011, the first year it included film. Although she “found her passion” as a kid making YouTube videos with her friends, she said that Miller was a big inspiration. She took what she learned in broadcasting and video production classes at Oceanside High and applied it to filming her own TV show called “Center Stage” at SUNY Old Westbury in 2016.
“I definitely had a creative side, but she taught me how to pick up a camera, set exposure, balance the sound, edit and more,” Purpura said.
“I’m really lucky I was a part of Oceanside.”
The sports broadcaster
Evan Pivnick attended Miller’s classes, and graduated from OHS in 2012. He said she helped fuel his passion. He was also “the PA guy” for school sports games, giving play-by-play commentary over the field loud speakers. During that time, he was featured on the TV network MSG Varsity (now News 21 Varsity) in 2011, when he and a friend broadcast an OHS hockey game at the Long Beach Ice Arena — the first student-run broadcast to do so, he said. In 2012, he won the network’s V Award for Best Student Play-By-Play in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
“I’m thankful for my time at OHS; it was a lot of fun,” Pivnick said. “And I am humble for that.”
He went on to major in media production and studies at Bowling Green State University where he was a broadcaster for its Division I hockey program. Pivnick also interned at SiriusXM. After graduating college, he was hired by ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder, a minor-league affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, as the director of broadcasting and community relations — the youngest in its history, he said.
“I learned a lot of very necessary skills in Ms. Miller’s classes, and I made friendships that I still hold to this day,” Pivnick said.
The video editor
Zach Feldman graduated from OHS in 2013, a year after he won the Ocean-side Film Festival award, and the same year he was named Sailor of the Year. In high school, Miller “taught him the ropes,” how to present and market himself, “and actually edit correctly,” he said.
After high school, Feldman worked for WRHU, Radio Hofstra University, and WBLI 106.1 as an on-air personality and video producer. Through his own company, ZLF Productions, he created content for productions such as “The Howard Stern Show” and organizations like the Long Island Nets. Feldman graduated from SUNY Old Westbury, where he also worked with NY1, News 12 Long Island and 95.5 PLJ’s “Todd & Jayde in the Morning.”
Feldman went on to work with Todd Pettengill and John Mingione, radio disc jockeys for WPLJ 95.5, and he is currently a digital video production assistant for the WWE.
He said he owes much of his success to Miller. “[Film] was a way for me to excel in something in school . . . I wasn’t much of a book nerd; I was more hands-on and creative,” Feldman said. “Without her knowledge and inspiration every day in the classroom, I don’t know if I would have ever been able to secure my dream job straight out of school.”
The news documentarian
Amy Gardner graduated from OHS in 2010. She is currently an administrative assistant for Susan Zirinsky, the senior executive producer for the CBS News program “48 Hours.”
It all started with Miller’s introduction to film class in 11th grade, she said, where she discovered her talent. “At first, I wanted to be an astronaut, but I was really garbage at math,” Gardner said. “[Then] I stumbled on film . . . I liked that it brought me outside, talking with people, yet I could still be technical.”
After OHS, she studied film, video and interactive media, and minored in political science at Quinnipiac University, graduating in 2014. Since working for CBS News, Gardner has been a part of documentaries based on investigative, crime and justice storytelling, involving the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, the Royal Wedding, real “NCIS” (the TV show) murder cases and whistleblowers.
She said Miller sparked her “undeniable love for the craft” and taught her lessons that she applies to her job today. “I know for certain I would not be where I am today,” she said, “if it was not for her endless help, inspiration and genuine interest in the success of her students.”