Sonoma Valley High School boosts vaunted media program

“The changes reflect the program’s growth from a humble video program to a robust and multifaceted one, including filmmaking, script writing, animation, motion graphics, podcasting, broadcasting and introduction to graphic design,” said Peter Hansen, media arts teacher at Sonoma Valley High School.|

Sonoma Valley High School has expanded its video arts program to include a new logo, rebuilt website, video animations and a social media platform.

The program also has been renamed the media arts program to fully embrace these changes.

“The changes reflect the program’s growth from a humble video program to a robust and multifaceted one, including filmmaking, script writing, animation, motion graphics, podcasting, broadcasting and introduction to graphic design,” said Peter Hansen, media arts teacher at Sonoma Valley High School. “All of it will be designed and orchestrated by students and alumni of the media arts.”

Hansen said that the program’s rebuilt website will be dynamic, with weekly updates to show students’ work and to connect the community with the high school. A new video provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation and production of the weekly Dragoncast broadcast by media students.

The broadcast focused on the making of a new video to celebrate the holidays. Each December, Sonoma Valley High School media students create a video “to open the holiday season with cheer, song, celebration and a bit of classroom mischief,” Hansen said.

“Each show we produce begins with writing, team meetings to determine order of preproduced videos and what news and announcements will be read live,’ he added. ”Rehearsals by the audio, video switching and lighting technical team start the day before.”

Every year, the show is created for a live campus broadcast — usually 10 days before Christmas — to 1,200 students, staff, alumni and parents. A recorded version is shared publicly on the program’s website, but was delayed this year as the website was being rebuilt.

“This production is student driven,” Hansen said. “No teachers other than myself as (media) teacher and supervisor worked on it. Students write the show, manage the edits and produce the live show, including all lighting, cameras and technical switching.”

Richie Cross was the lead editor for the classroom visits shown in the production; Georgina Van Heerden and Bella Thielen handled the singalong short; Mariana Hernandez contributed cultural aspects in the Hispanic-themed loteria (Mexican bingo) segment; Mia Lucchetti and Andrew Bonfigli were the anchors; and Trent Ohman and Matt Jordan were the sports anchors.

Austin Smith, a graduate of the school’s media program who is currently in a master’s degree program for screenplay writing, assisted with the introduction by animating the media arts logo and editing the holiday-themed introduction.

Sonoma High School’s video program was founded by Hansen in 2002 and has been funded ever since by the Sonoma International Film Festival. Short films by some of his students typically are included in the Student Showcase during the annual festival, held in March, but were not presented in 2023 mainly due to late starts with the productions and students’ personal needs.

The program has gained widespread acclaim and dozens of students have gone on to receive degrees from four-year university programs. Many also have flourished in media careers as independent cinematographers and broadcast engineers with companies such as Pixar, Disney and National Geographic.

This fall, two Sonoma Valley High School media students — Jacob Ceron Echeverria and Sakcham “Sam” Mishra — entered Sonoma State University on full-ride scholarships from the Sonoma International Film Festival. They are working toward a bachelor’s degree in the new cinematic arts and technology program at the university.

Every year for the next three years, two qualified Sonoma Valley High School media students will be offered full-ride scholarships to participate in the program. This will include tuition, housing, meals, and equipment as long as they remain enrolled in the program an adhere to scholarship guidelines.

Hansen says he credits the Sonoma Valley High School media program’s success to the support and long-standing relationships it has had with the community, especially the Sonoma International Film Festival.

“Without their support, we would have long ago ceased to exist and been a mere memory, instead of the thriving, vibrant program we are today,” he said.

Each year, hundreds of students in the program are introduced to the in-depth process of filmmaking and produce dozens of short films. Some students who take the classes are not interested in pursuing media careers, though.

“For those not pursuing media, as an art elective this class offers film theory, history and most important, an appreciation for the essential art of storytelling,” Hansen wrote on the program’s website.

More information about the program can be obtained by contacting Hansen at phansen@sonomaschools.org.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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