BEACON FALLS — Woodland Regional High School digital media teacher Ralph Riello used to always tell his students that one day the high school would have its own TV studio.
Admittedly, Riello didn’t always believe that.
That day, however, has come.
“Good things come to those who wait,” said Riello last Friday morning as he sat in the new TV studio on the second floor of the school.
Over the winter break, room 217 was converted into the studio. A door was put in to connect the studio with room 219, a computer lab used by technology education classes. A window was added as well between the two rooms and some duct work was removed from room 217.
The room was once a technology education classroom, but most recently was being used by a reading specialist. Production equipment now fills the room.
“Santa Claus left me a studio,” Riello joked.
The digital media program first started at Woodland in the 2007-08 school year as an afterschool club, called Hawk Productions. The first digital media class came the following year.
Hawks Productions is still in existence and two digital media courses are now offered, including the full-year DM3 course. The class is structured like a production company. Students fill the integral roles of a real company. Students can take the course for three years and are assigned their roles based on whether they’ve taken the class before and experience level.
During its short history, the program has earned its share of accolades including a People’s Choice Award at the Connecticut Student Film Festival and a second place at the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo’s Digital Media 3 Challenge.
The program earned state recognition without having a studio to call its own.
Hawks Productions and digital media classes used to meet in the control room for the school’s auditorium. The narrow, cramped room was too small for a studio and used at times to store items such as costumes and risers for the chorus.
The students used to have to always be on the move, said junior Meghan Terry, a member of Hawks Productions and DM3 student. The studio used to be in the hall, she said, because lights couldn’t be set up in the room.
Now, she said, lights can be set up and interviews can be done in the studio.
“It’s like our home now,” Terry said, “and it’s not a closet.”
Assistant Principal Dana Mulligan was the first interviewee in the studio, followed by Principal Kurt Ogren for “This is Woodland,” a video shown to eighth graders and their parents during a recent orientation.
For junior Drew Chura, a member of Hawks Productions and DM3 student, the studio is a welcomed, albeit surprising, addition to the program.
“I was a little shocked to be honest,” said Chura about when he learned the studio was finally going to be built.
Things are going well so far, Chura said. The students are able to get more done in the same time when compared to the former set up, he said.
Fellow Hawks Productions member and DM3 student Ewelina Lemansky, a junior, described the studio as more open and energetic.
“I was really excited because we were always talking about it,” she said about the studio. “I’m definitely pleased with how it came out.”
The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, discussed building a studio in late 2012. At the time, the board was looking at transferring $10,000 for the work.
Business Manager Pamela Mangini said the renovations to the room cost $12,875. Most of the work was done by Green Construction and Restoration in conjunction with the Dave Langdon, the district’s supervisor of facilities and maintenance, she said. Some work was done in-house, Mangini said.
Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the new studio allows the program to evolve with the ever-changing digital media world.
James said since the school was designed nearly 14 years ago much has emerged and developed in the area of digital media production, equipment and related instruction. The digital media courses, he added, have become popular with students and the program needed more space.
“With relatively minor alterations, there is now a more professional setting for productions, instruction and an increased opportunity for the students to take on more challenging projects,” James said.
Riello is still adjusting to the new studio. He hasn’t quite figured out how to arrange the room yet and is eyeing sectioning off a portion of the studio for a control room sooner or later.
While he figures it out, the students are busy at work. Upcoming projects include a documentary on responsible design for the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo. The focus will be on the bubble over Cheshire’s pool which has collapsed twice in the past few years. A Woodland TV show, which is set to debut late this month, is also in the works.
“What [the studio] means to me is a better experience for the students,” said Riello, who thanked the school board for its support. “It allows for the students to get more out of the program.”