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Money targeted to build Woodland studio

Woodland High School digital media students Aidan Music, Whitney Stow and Megan Terry (standing) talk with digital media teacher Ralph Riello last week at the school. A plan to build a studio at the school is currently in the works. –KIMBERLY WILSON
Woodland High School digital media students Aidan Music, Whitney Stow and Meghan Terry (standing) talk with digital media teacher Ralph Riello last week at the school. A plan to build a studio at the school is currently in the works. –KIMBERLY WILSON

BEACON FALLS – The award-winning digital media program at Woodland Regional High School may soon be revamped with the addition of a new and improved film studio.

The Region 16 Board of Education approved moving funds in the amount of $10,000 for a digital media studio in October, but due to shifts in business administrative positions, the transfer of funds was never finalized.

The school board was expected to revisit the issue at its meeting Wednesday, however it was not brought up.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James the matter will be discussed in the near future and he’s “95 percent” sure the project will come to fruition. He said officials are still determining what can be done by staff and what will have to be done by an outside contractor.

“I am looking forward to the project moving forward soon,” James said.

Woodland digital media teacher Ralph Riello said his dream is to have the school’s storage room refurbished into a studio, but it is likely that an addition will be built on the current upstairs space instead for cost-efficiency.

“We kind of did it backwards,” Riello said. “Instead of building a studio and then a program, we built a program and are still waiting on a studio.”

The digital media course currently uses part of an upstairs hallway as a studio, and a room borrowed from the art department as a classroom.

Last year, Riello had two sections of the class. This year, he has only one, but with twice the amount of students. With 24 students in the course, the small digital media classroom is filled to capacity.

“If a kid really wants the opportunity to be in this class, I try to find a way,” Riello said. “Media and production is what I’m passionate about.”

The digital media course, called DM3, is structured like a production company. Small groups of students fulfill the integral roles of a real company, including that of producer, camera operator and production manager. The students are assigned their roles based on whether they’ve taken the class before and experience level.

This is the fourth year Woodland has offered a digital media course. In its first year, the program existed only as an afterschool club, called Hawk Productions. Since its creation, the program has won several awards for their short films and documentaries, including the People’s Choice Award at the Connecticut Student Film Festival and second place at the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo’s Digital Media 3 Challenge.

Riello, who used to own and manage a Connecticut production company before he became a teacher at Woodland, said bringing his business model to the classroom offers students the chance to see how a production company is run while strengthening their communication and business skills.

“If they come out with top-notch communication skills, they are going to have a leg up,” Riello said.

Riello said he tries to guide his students in creating successful projects, but that he lets the students come up with the ideas behind the projects and edit themselves to arrive at finished products they can call their own.

“I don’t push buttons and I don’t edit things,” Riello said, adding that he is a “resource-only” teacher.

Woodland High School’s digital media class currently uses part of a hallway as a studio. –KIMBERLY WILSON
Woodland High School’s digital media class currently uses part of a hallway as a studio. –KIMBERLY WILSON

The overriding goal of this year is to produce a monthly show, called “Tip of the Beak.” The show, which is completed the last week of every month, is broken down into segments and includes stories and public service announcements.

The class has been commissioned to produce promotional material for a local fire station, the school’s art department, and Pilgrim Furniture City in Milford.

Woodland sophomore Meghan Terry said she has enjoyed gaining digital media experience through Riello’s class.

“I like being able to work on the projects and getting to know the production process” Terry said. “It’s a real-world experience.”

Senior Whitney Stow said that, after taking the DM3 course, digital media is the career path she wants to pursue in college next year.

“It’s pretty much what I want to do with my life,” Stow said of digital media. “I didn’t come into this class thinking that. I took it just thinking it would be interesting, but I liked it much more than I thought I would. “

Stow said that, even though she wouldn’t be around to see it, she hopes that the class will soon have a digital media studio so the program can grow and improve.

Although Riello said he has four or five students every year who intend on making digital media their future careers, his goal is to provide all of his students with the communication and marketing skills necessary to succeed in any job.

“If they are jazzed about digital media and that’s their passion, that’s great,” Riello said. “But if they just want to leave and go to school to be an accountant, this class will help them with that too.”