The Video Productions Program at Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio, began in the fall of 1998 with the purchase of two digital broadcast video cameras and one Avid Xpress nonlinear editing system.
Today the program has developed into a fully modern High-Definition production facility with three levels of career and technical video production classes, two levels of broadcast journalism, and a fully operational educational television station broadcasting on cable across Northeast Ohio, and worldwide on the web.
From its inception, the program’s student-centered curriculum has provided rigorous and relevant applications to the real world. Its goal is to ensure that each student gains an in-depth, holistic understanding of all aspects of video production and broadcasting: effective storytelling, project research and development, field and studio lighting, shooting, editing, audio engineering, public relations and marketing skills, historical preservation, and public service works. Students are constantly presented with project opportunities that challenge them to work in a cooperative environment where each individual is important to the success of the final product. The course syllabus includes direct classroom instruction, as well as hands-on training activities in the development of video projects, many receiving acclaim through newspaper and television coverage, as well as being seen by audiences around the world. A primary focus of programming has been to look beyond the walls of the high school and to utilize the tools and resources to impact the school district, city, and the greater global community.
The student component is very strong. Because of the curriculum and training they experienced while in the program, former students have been immediately placed in advanced broadcast journalism and production classes at Kent State University, the University of Akron, The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Emerson College, Full Sail University, Columbia of Chicago, and New York, as well as many film schools. In addition, students have also been offered employment after completing the program to work for independent design and production companies, sports broadcasting organizations, as well as numerous internships in the field. Hoover’s curriculum provides its student learners with full technical experiences in concert with critical journalistic experiences, thus providing the highest learning level of wholly student-run broadcast production.
The staff includes Mr. Tom Wilson, (Right)1991 Hoover High graduate and 15-year veteran video production teacher and coordinator of the district television station. His continued work outside the classroom as a director, editor, and documentary filmmaker has brought influence and direction to the program, as well as assistance from professionals and industry leaders who are committed to assisting with strengthening student growth. Mrs. Jennifer Manion (Left), broadcast Journalism teacher, brings her experiences as a successful speech coach and English teacher to the program. Her direction over the Broadcast Journalism program has spurred the need for the expansion to a two level class starting in the fall of 2013. In addition, the program’s reputation brought 2005 Hoover High graduate of the program, Benjamin Draher, back to the facility as the teacher of four video production classes. Draher’s experience and education at The Ohio University are shared daily in the classroom and lab environment. All three staff members participate in directing students as they often work weeknights and weekends, recording district and community events for the educational TV station.
Wilson is quick to share that his program started like many other video programs with nothing more than a few cameras in a regular classroom and a mini tv studio that was producing school video announcements from a storage area not much larger than an oversized closet. Their first teleprompters were constructed from four- inch black and white portable Radio Shack tv sets held on the the cameras with velcro. It was not uncommon for them to come loose in the middle of a broadcast and fall onto the floor. For the first five years of teaching, Wilson’s students created the morning announcements, short films, commercials, and just about anything that came their way from outside clients, typically non profit organizations such as Habitat For Humanity. Producing video projects for outside groups is what got the program noticed. It has also been an important part of developing a core principle of the program which is providing students the opportunity to impact others in a positive way through media.
Another area of production that catapulted the program into the spotlight was their work on documentaries. Wilson used his background as a social studies major to bring passionate storytelling to the classroom. Long format videos with interviews, narration, music, sound effects, combined with archival footage and local resources such as photos and newspaper articles helped tell the stories of WWII Veterans from the community. In 2005, a project called Hometown Heroes: The Story of North Canton garnered an Emmy Nomination after the program aired on PBS in Northeast Ohio. The story also caught the attention of famed documentary producer Ken Burns who made contact with North Canton’s video production program. Burns befriended the class and shared about his professional experience along with some advice for the group of future filmmakers.
Students in the program have taken on other storytelling projects such as Pieces of Paradise: Restoring Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. A few months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Tom Wilson and then broadcast journalism teacher Valeta Drake took a group of students on the adventure of a lifetime. For ten days the group traveled in a motorhome interviewing young victims of the storm at Bay High in Mississippi. After intensive research, filming, and editing, the project produced another PBS worthy documentary, and another Emmy nomination from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) in the Great Lakes Region. During the same time period, Valeta Drake was producing The Book Club, one of SVN’s first online articles. Use the link above to read more about how the children’s storytelling program was produced.
One of the most important steps for Hoover’s evolution was taking part in a strategic planning session with a group consisting of some 250 parents, teachers, administrators, and students who came together to set up a five year vision plan for the school district. Wilson, not even a year into teaching, was asked to come to a meeting and share his ideas of what the video program could do for the district and community to help improve communications. “Someone told me not to hold back, don’t worry about how to make it happen, just present what you think the impact would be if you could dream big. So thats what I did, and they were listening.” It was the backing of the strategic plan which gave the small video program the momentum and support it needed to forge ahead. By year five of the strategic plan, NCCS TV11 began broadcasting on Time Warner Cable, a second teacher was hired, and the Broadcast Journalism class had been added to the curriculum. The biggest change was yet to come, the renovation of a new 5,000 square foot state-of-the-art production facility to house the studio, control room, classroom, and edit suites used by the students.
It’s no secret that funding is a crucial element to building and maintaining a healthy video productions and broadcast program. Wilson learned early on in his career that choosing to be “different” from core education is not always easy. “I had to think beyond traditional funding to build what I hoped would become the ultimate learning environment for our students.” In 2003, with the backing of the superintendent and a solid strategic plan, grants were written to two local foundations. Over $280,000 was raised to fund the equipment in the new facility. An estimated $200,000 in equipment donations was also acquired from broadcast companies such as NBC. Once the construction dust settled, Hoover’s new video-journalism lab emerged with a fully operational TV studio, digital control room, sound room, classroom, and 14 edit rooms running on an Avid LanShare Network. Students now had access to their own arsenal of 12 panasonic DVX-100a and AG-DVC30 camcorders, 8 Arri light kits, shotgun mics, and one of the best learning labs imaginable in which to work.
Maintaining a quality program takes planning and a lot of effort. Video Productions is a Career Tech class, so there are some funds available when needed for repairs or small upgrades. The program also supports itself through DVD sales of their programs, basketball games, sports highlight videos, donations from sponsors, and work with clients. Wilson said one form of income he recommends to other teachers is VHS to DVD transfers of home movies. This past December the program brought in $600 through the fund raiser. “You just drop in the tape, set the timer, and let it go. At $10 bucks a pop, it is slam dunk which translates into money in the coffers, and another happy member of the community touched by our students.”
The hard work and dedication of the teachers in the program has started to pay dividends as former students are now finding ways to give back. Recently, former student Bill Gould interned at WEWS news channel 5 in Cleveland just a year out of high school and got the attention of his superiors at the station. Impressed by his advanced training from a high school program, they decided to look further into the operations taking place at Hoover. As a gesture of support, WEWS donated their TV news set to be re-purposed at Hoover. Over the course of several months, Wilson retrofitted the set in Hoover’s studio which has given new life to their daily news program, HVTV News. It also allows the students to quickly transition to the recording of their many talk shows within just a few minutes of completing the news each day. “The new set is looks amazing and it adds flexibility to the work of our student producers. The kids often create more original content by noon than the local news stations, it’s awesome to watch them work,” says Wilson.
In 2013 the program was ready to celebrate 10 years in the new production facility. It also meant that the program was facing a very real problem. The decade old standard definition framework could no longer be supported by small yearly equipment purchases, and duct-tape repairs were no longer sustainable. Once again with the support of the superintendent, Wilson was able to begin a fundraising campaign with three local grant foundations. The Hoover Foundation, Henry and Louise Timken Foundation, and the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, partnered with the school to support an upgrade to High Definition. The $320,000 project started the day school let out in the spring and wrapped up in September. “We stripped everything out, all the way down to the wiring,” Wilson said. “A fiber optic network replaced the old infrastructure, and then we rebuilt everything from the ground up.”
For the tech heads out there, here is a brief list of what was included in the upgrade: Avid ISIS editing network with 20 Avid Clients, Sony PMW-320 XDCAM Cam studio cameras, Panasonic AG-AC90 camcorders for the juniors and broadcast students, Canon EOS 60D DSLR cameras for the senior class, Broadcast Pix Mica studio switcher with two Inscriber CG stations for on-air graphics, a Compix CG station for studio monitor graphics, a Tools on Air dual capture station to record files directly onto the Avid ISIS network allowing for instant edit of the HD files. The classroom lab was also replaced with new computers and updated Adobe CS6 Master Collection software.
Students can begin taking Video Productions as sophomores where they learn the basics of production along with the history of media and the impact it has on society. Students get their feet wet with Adobe Premiere before moving on to After Effects and Avid Media Composer during their junior year. The senior year of Video Productions is strictly a production class where they make narrative films, commercials, documentaries and other projects. Students work on a daily news show that broadcasts 4 days a week. The show, HVTV News is a collaborative production with the Broadcast Journalism class. They write using EZ-News software, produce story packages, and work in front of the camera, while the video class handles all of the technical demands behind the scenes. This year broadcast students began shooting and editing their own news packages to better prepare them for the industry.
Wilson offers advice to those just starting a new program. “Be patient. Collaborate with other departments in your school. Get the attention of your administrators, and eventually your Superintendent and Board Members. Focus on making an impact on your students first, then the school, then the district, and eventually the community. Once you have their support you can seek funding from outside organizations such as local grant foundations. Bring your administration and teachers on a tour of other video programs to help them catch the vision of what can be done. No matter what, make sure that students come first in all situations.”