There are so many great projects you get to do with students when you run a video productions and broadcast journalism program.
News packages highlight some of the exciting things happening in your school and community, music videos bring out everyone's creative side, short films generate some really unique narratives, and live sports provide a rush that is hard to beat. We have all of these forms of production going on at Hoover High School in North Canton Ohio in what we call our NCtv Media program, and it makes for a great comprehensive education.
I often get asked what is the best project for students to produce that pushes their script writing abilities, drives them to the edge of their technical limits, pumps adrenaline through their veins during production, and tells a story that captures the attention of parents, the school board, and community?
Having over two decades of experience in the classroom, I can tell you without a doubt, it’s telling a story about a local veteran. This project, hands down, provides the longest lasting and widest reaching influence of any other production.
My first year of teaching the principal called me just a week before Veterans Day of 1998 to explain that the high school needed some way to engage the student body on veterans day with a presentation that would honor men and women who have served in the armed forces. This wasn't just an important gesture, it was also the law according to recently adopted legislation in ohio.
I gathered up my senior class and headed to the library. We checked out a dozen books and headed back to our classroom studio. This was “pre-scanner days,” so we literally recorded the photos using the macro lens settings on our video cameras, edited the shots to some patriotic music, and by the end of the week there was a 20 minute pictorial history of wars fought by our nation's veterans.
On the morning of November 11th, we played the video across the building TVs that were mounted in every classroom when the school was built a year prior to me being hired. This was actually the first time anything had been broadcast on them. Honestly, I remember being hesitant to show the project because it lacked any type of narration, interviews, or motion video of any kind.
The moment the credits rolled on the video, my classroom phone rang. At first I did not recognize the voice on the other line. The person calling was muffled and their speech was dropping off. It took a moment to realize it was my principal, and he was clearly very emotional. When he did get the words out, he simply said, “This is the most honoring thing we have ever done as a school, thank you, this was more than I ever expected.”
Later that day we dropped off the tape at the local public access channel and they broadcast it for the next week on TV. The response from the community was overwhelming,
I knew then we had all done something very special. The students were extremely proud of their work.
The following year we entered the project with a solid plan. The kids started researching and interviewing potential candidates for the creation of a 30 minute documentary that would need to have all the right elements for success. They found the National Archives online film database and downloaded authentic film footage from WWII. Students contacted the local heritage society for archival news papers and photographs.
An interview of the veteran of our story was interviewed on location, and a set was built in the classroom studio to record the narration. After weeks of editing, the end product was an amazing story Stark County Native Harry Hall, US Air Force, Retired, who served as a radio operator for the Allies under General McArthur in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. Hall and his crew flew many missions during the war, including one unauthorized mission known as the “Forbidden Flight” where Hall took photos at low altitude of Hiroshima and Nagasaki just days after the atomic bombs were dropped.
Over the years we have continued the tradition of creating projects for Veterans Day, including many documentaries that tell the stories of men and women who have served in the armed forces. Several of them have been nominated for regional Emmys by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lower Great Lakes chapter. You can visit our website to view them at https://www.northcantonschools.org/NCtv1.aspx
Our next documentary called “My Grandfather’s Story” and it will premiere November 8th, 2019. It is the story of William E. Pilati, who served in the 275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and will be told through a documentary featuring Mr. Pilati and his granddaughter Siena Pilati. Pilati fought at the Battle of the Bulge with his fellow soldiers in a halftrack vehicle.
The next article in this series will feature a behind the scenes look at the production, including how students arranged for several military vehicles to be brought inside our school as part of the film set. Also, be on the lookout for an article about legendary documentary maker Mr. Ken Burns, a fan of our documentary productions who offered our students his advice on how to tell the most effective stories.