Live from 20000 Broadway … it’s Friday morning!
Senior Kerrick Martin and Peter Hansen gearing up for the Christmas Dragon News broadcast.
On most Fridays before lunch, classrooms through Sonoma Valley High School stop what they are doing and turn on the television to check out the local news. The very local news.
Dragon News, the high school’s weekly, closed-circuit, live television broadcast, is now in its eighth year. The 20-minute, high-definition broadcasts contain live footage as well as prerecorded segments, news of campus events, student performances, opinion pieces, PSAs, calendar items and sports news. The production values are gorgeous, notable for a high school with as small a budget as Sonoma Valley High.
The broadcast TV program is a less-well-known aspect of teacher Peter Hansen’s media arts empire. His students oversee all aspects of the broadcast, including production, writing, anchoring, field reporting, cinematography, audio engineering and editing. Perhaps 1,000 students and teachers tune in to the broadcasts and all are available online at svhsvideo.com.
Primarily intended to inform the high school student body, the show highlights both the news and an occasional controversial opinion piece while sometimes including student-produced original comedy shorts. A hot link to the week’s broadcast is included in each Fridays announcements that are emailed to parents and available on the school web site.
Students in Hansen’s second-year, Video Arts II class follow a detailed and rigorous curriculum laid out by Hansen at the start of the year. They practice in three-person news teams, reacting to spontaneous activity, interviewing skills on the fly, researching a topic and writing the news copy. They all learn to use the studio for a controlled interview, including lighting, audio, teleprompter and investigative interview style. They also learn the business of weekly news and broadcasting, with teams responsible for producing a “sponsor” or “advertiser” spotlight to be used during weekly broadcasts. Careers in film and television are discussed at length and Hansen brings in industry professionals as guest speakers.
Two-hundred-fifty students (freshman through seniors) signed up for the 120 spots in Hansen’s four sections of media arts courses this year. His courses are a-g approved which means that, unlike most electives at the high school, they count toward the requirement of the University of California system.
Fourteen new Sony HD cameras were purchased this fall and the entire lab was cleaned, rebuilt and redecorated thanks to a small army of current and former students who volunteered to come in over the summer to help out. “We cleaned up 40 pounds of dust bunnies and wiped swaths of gooey finger grime from 40 keyboards and mice and screens,” said Hansen happily. In exchange, he makes himself available to these students long after school hours are over, on weekends and occasionally in the summer as well. He writes a regular blog for the department’s web site chronicling his lesson plans and his thoughts, hopes and dreams for their futures.
Junior Jen Howlett and senior Conor Johnston are the two anchors of the broadcast news program this year, and they exhibit true charisma on-screen. While Howlett is new to Hansen’s class, she has acting and film experience, and both anchors seem exceptionally comfortable on-camera.
The Dragon News Christmas broadcast seemed as fun to produce as it was to watch. Segments included a Christmas rap, sports news, a skit from the music department, a spoof segment of the TV show “The Office,” a short piece on the Earth Club, a segment of caroling in the high school and concluded by the media arts crew singing in the studio.
The working atmosphere in the studio is intense but jovial. The handful of students working the cameras, sound and lights have a smooth working relationship with the anchors, and senior Kerrick Martin, who produces the news show, has perhaps the most tenure in the media arts program. Unless something goes horribly wrong, Hansen lets the students run the show.
Digital video and broadcasting courses are offered in 11 Sonoma County high schools, but few have the resources and equipment that grace the Sonoma Valley High media arts facility. Hansen works hard to attract corporate and private donations to support his program. Giving Gary Nelson, from Nelson Staffing, a tour one day, Nelson asked why the anchors didn’t have a teleprompter. Learning there was no budget for one, Nelson donated it. “That is kind of how it happens around here,” explained Hansen. “We have been blessed by support from the Film Festival, the Ed Foundation, the Rotary, the Boosters and the community at large … and none of this equipment would be here without them.”
Without exception, the students interviewed describe the media arts program as their favorite class at the high school, with some going so far as to say that it is what has kept them in school. When experts talk dreamily about student engagement, this is exactly what they mean.