Students blossom in SVHS arts and media program
Stella Clements enrolled in a fine arts class at Sonoma Valley High School, but after a couple of weeks, she realized that it wasn’t for her.
“I had to practically beg my counselor to let me switch classes, but I am so lucky that I was switched,” she said. “I was then transferred into the video arts class, and from that point on, it was incredible. I really fell in love with the filming, retaking shots and doing everything we could to perfect the film we had made.”
Clements, a 17-year-old senior, is a student in the Production and Managerial Arts Pathway, which includes film and video arts and is part of the Arts, Media & Entertainment Sector of the Career Technical Education program at SVHS. The pathway, taught by Peter Hansen, offers classes in video arts and advanced video production.
The sector also includes the Design, Visual and Media Arts Pathway, focusing on photography and graphic design, which is taught by Andrew Mitchell. Both pathways became part of the CTE program nearly eight years ago.
“They are two of the most impressive pathways on our campus,” said Wendy Swanson, work-based learning coordinator for the College & Career Center at SVHS. “Both programs have well-equipped labs with digital cameras, a darkroom, a broadcast and sound studio, and a podcast studio, to name a few. These programs provide terrific training for some of the most in-demand careers in Sonoma County.
“Also, for some students, creative classes like these are the ones that engage students the most and are the impetus they need to do well, graduate and go on to study media in college.”
Clements says that the classes she has taken in the Production and Managerial Arts Pathway have made her aware of the importance of collaboration.
“Working with other people can truly be a saving grace,” she said. “It gets extremely difficult when you have ‘tunnel vision’ and writer’s block. Being able to get an outside perspective, whether it is from a teacher or just another student, is sometimes all you need to watch your project bloom.”
Though Clements has been intending to pursue a career in social work or another job that provides support for people, her experiences on the Production and Media Arts Pathway have broadened her horizons.
“I truly have fallen in love with film and filmmaking, so I could see myself in the future in that line of work, as well,” she said.
The SVHS video arts program was started in 2002 by Hansen, who served as its first teacher.
“I answered a call to volunteer at a first-ever teen video workshop at SVHS, in my current rooms,” he said. “I was transformed by the infectious energy, insouciance and youthful vibe of kids in the creative process.”
Glenn Moll, who was the schools’ vice principal at the time, sensed Hansen’s enthusiasm and offered him the job.
“Ironically, I said ‘no’ at first,” Hansen said. “I had no credential, no intention to teach and simply wanted to volunteer and then get back to my thriving video business. God, fate or universal design had a different plan for me, and here I am in my 20th year.”
Beginning video classes focus on the basics of camera use, framing techniques, editing with Adobe Premiere software and audio production, and offer a section on film history, theory and analyzing film and story. The first semester of the Advanced Video Production course concentrates on broadcasting television, news production, studio lighting, studio engineering and documentary production. The second semester includes script writing and advanced film production, with a culmination project for the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF).
Some 150 students are taking video classes at SVHS, and Hansen says almost every student at the school is affected in some way through on-campus broadcasts, student film fests and participation in media projects.
“Kids use media to express their feelings and emotions,” he said. “Their work often reflects what is going on in their lives as impressionable teenagers. Media by nature is evocative and creates a shared experience with the audience. It is relatable, be it humor, drama, artful representations of life’s experiences or just escapist entertainment.”
The program has always had an advisory board and the SIFF has provided it with advice, $750,000 in funding and introductions to industry professionals over the past 20 years. The SIFF and Sonoma TV have offered paid internships to SVHS students for 15 years.
Most students in the Production and Managerial Arts pathway subsequently attend four-year universities, studying film and communications, and then enter the field as professionals. Some have gone on to become editors for television shows, award-winning cinematographers, small business owners in media and script writers.