High school production club is the star of the show

“It was really started by students and for students.”

Vashon High School students Rohin Petram and Olivia White work behind the scenes in the Production Club (Thane Gill photo).

Vashon High School students Rohin Petram and Olivia White work behind the scenes in the Production Club (Thane Gill photo).

Three years ago, the Vashon High School Production Club live-streamed the 2015 graduation ceremony with a webcam and a laptop.

Today its members use sophisticated broadcasting equipment for programming, aided by advantageous partnerships with industry experts, guiding some students toward opportunities and related fields in video production.

According to Thane Gill, club advisor and network administrator, the Production Club records live sports games, concerts, guest speakers and meetings, captures audio of performances from visiting musicians and open mic nights, and broadcasts community events such as the recent Ballot Palooza forum and state Senate candidate debate.

He credits the students themselves for helping to initiate the changes at a grassroots level, securing greater autonomy for the club as well as advancing their capabilities in such a short amount of time.

“It was really started by students and for students,” said Gill. “A lot of it was about the kids having access to [technology], and they were teaching themselves how to use it and what to do with it.”

Gill, class of 2011, joined the faculty two years ago and said that with community support, the Production Club has since developed several major professional working relationships in the greater Seattle area. Video production and lighting company Stageworks, based in Seattle, has lent an LED video wall for use during past graduation ceremonies. Microsoft Studios in Redmond has invited VHS students to tour their facility, awarding internships to upperclassmen, several of whom have landed jobs there after graduation. Martin Feveyear, a venerate music producer based on the island, has helped the club network and connect with musicians who have performed at the school. The students have collaborated with Voice of Vashon over the years, Gill said, coordinating with announcers at all major sports games and assisting their coverage of the annual Strawberry Festival.

Driving membership, support for the Production Club has come from several sources, according to John Stanton, director of Technology. The nonprofit group Partners in Education has awarded approximately $13,000 to the club in the last three years. The program has also been supported by various charitable bequests to the school from community members, and Stanton said the department was able to organize a pilot program to reserve money from their budget for certain needs.

Jacob Danielsen, a video engineer for Microsoft Studios who graduated VHS in 2016, said that working with broadcast equipment at such a cutting-edge level got his foot in the door right away, earning him an internship at the company he now works for.

“I think the high school program was the only reason why I got that,” he said. “One of the most important things that you get out of it is kind of an idea about how that industry works. If you spend time for a couple years there, there’s no reason that you can’t go out and get a low tier job in the industry [to start]. There are options for anybody coming into it.”

Danielsen has returned to the club as an advisor of sorts, eager to help the next generation of video production talent reach their fullest potential.

“They gave me what I have today, and anything I can do to give back to that is great. I do what I can,” he said.

Lars Cain, a VHS senior and longtime member of the Production Club, said that his involvement in the Technology Department has propelled his education and that with vital firsthand experience he has learned about general electronics and systems management.

“I’ve picked up things like that that are useful. Troubleshooting — that’s one of the most valuable things I’ve gotten from it,” he said. “Things always go wrong with live streams. Being able to find out where it’s going wrong, and how, is a super important thing.”

Cain said that he was grateful for the mentorship of former students such as Danielsen who have helped club members discover their strengths as well as for sharing their own perspectives about how to get a start in video production. But he said his most worthwhile experience was taking the reins with a classmate last summer at the Gender Odyssey conference in Seattle, a symposium for transgender and gender diverse children, their families, allies and healthcare professionals.

Cain and his peer recorded the conference for the club over the span of four days, trucking in core elements of the high school’s broadcast studio to the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, no small feat but one he said was worth every moment.

“That was the first time I got to dive into the technical side of it,” he said. “It’s why I do this. I got to take everything I’ve learned and put it into use without any mentorship. It was just me and this other student, which was really exciting.”

It took the pair four weeks to prepare for the conference. Next summer, Cain said that he will be working with Microsoft Studios himself.

“I really like doing tech, and working with my hands and I get to do that,” he said. “I get to do a lot of stuff I like, and I get to work with great people.”

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