Pilgrim High School will have a new high-tech media studio by spring, thanks largely to a $95,600 grant from The Champlin Foundations.
Room 107, or Studio 107 as it is now being called, was originally a shop room complete with a foundry for metal work, as well as storage space. Principal Marie Cote explained that at the end of the last school year, a plan was made to transform the space into an audio/visual studio and classroom to be used for classes and after-school activities.
“We don’t do any of this anymore,” said Cote about the metal work classes. “And the kids had no interest in it whatsoever.”
While the plan was created at the end of last school year, the desire for a studio started over a year ago, when the faculty made a movie for a fundraising event hosted by the Pilgrim Film Society.
“It was going to be a six-year plan to do something like this in four major stages,” explained Cote; that all changed thanks to The Champlin Foundations’ competitive grant program.
When Cote learned that the 2013 competitive grant program for public secondary education from The Champlin Foundations would focus exclusively on classroom equipment and technology for Rhode Island public high schools, she suggested her teachers put together the application for the studio equipment and give it a shot.
To write the grant application, Cote turned to four Pilgrim teachers who had the desire to create the studio: English and drama teacher Rich Denningham, band director Christopher Pratt, English teacher Brian Callahan and Tech Ed teacher Andrea Place.
In the application, the request was “to fund the creation of an Interdisciplinary Audio/Visual Classroom and Studio,” which would not only help with the educational needs of students but also “generate student interest, fostering creativity, expression and a genuine interest in learning.”
In the application, the teacher created an itemized budget of what they would like to use the $95,600 to purchase. The list includes eight iMac desktop computers with Adobe Production Premium, Pro Tools and Microsoft Office software for each, three large studio cameras, a number of cameras and handheld camcorders, a variety of video camera and computer equipment, studio lighting fixtures, audio equipment, microphones and more.
The application was submitted in June, and Cote heard they were in the second round in early fall. Members of the Foundation came in October to visit and Cote said they were surprised to see how large the space for the studio was and that the infrastructure was in place.
“Usually you have the technology but not the infrastructure,” said Cote.
Cote learned they had received the grant a few weeks ago and the check arrived on Monday.
But the work began long before that to prepare the studio for equipment in the future, whether the grant was approved or the six-year plan was put into place.
Room 107 is large with three large storage rooms inside. To become Studio 107, the space will feature three performance areas, one chroma-key soundstage (green screen) and two staging areas for changing sets, as well as a central space for audio production. One of the storage rooms will become a computer lab for audio/video editing, creative writing, storyboarding, animation, and computer-assisted set and lighting design. Another storage area will become a professional grade sound booth and recording studio. The third closet will remain storage for cameras, lights, wires, etc.
The process of cleaning out and then transforming the room has been done entirely by Denningham, Pratt, Callahan and Place, with some help from Cote and their students. Students assisted with cleaning the storage out of the space, as well as with cleaning. The teachers and Cote have also been cleaning, painting and getting the room ready for equipment. The school’s electrician was called in to do wiring for new lighting and other electrical work.
As for the machinery from the old shop room, Cote explained that they were able to sell some of it back to companies, but some pieces were too old and needed to be recycled.
“Anything we could get recycled, we did,” added Cote.
Place pointed out that the grant only covered technology such as the cameras, computers and software. The grant would not cover furniture, staging for the three performance areas and the materials to construct the green screen. To cover those items, the teachers are looking for other grants or donation opportunities.
They also predict they will need to continue fundraising over the years to keep the studio’s technology up to date and working; fundraisers will be regularly hosted to cover the cost of things such as extra bulbs, wires and other maintenance needs.
The four teachers imagine being able to use the studio for classes in all of their disciplines, as well as opening it up for special video and audio projects that any teacher in the school wishes to do. Students who wish to create a video portfolio piece(s) or senior projects could also use the space.
Potential in-studio classes include digital and video communications, multimedia graphics, music theory (audio production lessons), mass media and theater workshop.
This year, special education students at Pilgrim created PSAs, filming in front of the studio’s mock-green screen (a lime green sheet hanging on the wall until the official green screen is constructed). They then worked with students in one of Place’s classes to select their backgrounds and edit the final pieces.
“My class does all the editing for it,” explained Place. Crossover projects like that could become more common with this studio.
The English and drama classes will also be able to put on small performance pieces or hold auditions in the three performance spaces. There is even the potential to film the auditions so the students can look back at what they did and improve on their performance. The band and chorus will also be able to record their music, as will individual players and singers
After school, the Film Society will certainly be using the space to work on their film projects.
“Students are in charge of writing and storyboarding, filming, everything,” explained Callahan.
Place said she could envision a Pilgrim Short Film Festival somewhere down the line because of the availability of the equipment, technology and performance space.
Down the line, Place also sees her students becoming filmmakers for the entire district.
“Eventually we will have the ability to live stream,” said Place, pointing out that graduations, plays, music performances and other events at schools throughout the district could be filmed and produced by Pilgrim students using this studio.
“We hope that this room is used from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Place.
To determine what equipment and technology they would need, the four teachers visited other area schools with similar spaces, including Bishop Hendricken High School, La Salle Academy and the Community College of Rhode Island.
“They were very helpful with ideas, what to buy, what not to buy,” explained Place.
Callahan pointed out that the studio will be something very unique for a public high school and has the potential to help students determine a future career path.
“It has the potential to be an academy,” said Callahan.
Although the studio space won’t be completed until March, as camera equipment comes in or computers are set up, students will be able to use them.