Stars of CTE: Plumas Charter Program Provides Backlight for Media Career Success

Plumas Charter School AME Pathways 

Most students have homework. Plumas Charter School learners have clients.

The Far North school’s Art, Media, and Entertainment (AME) students recently filmed a marketing video for Plumas District Hospital’s Wilderness Medical Conference, where doctors and nurses gather from all over the world to learn about wilderness medicine.

“They were our clients,” says Greg Willis, CTE AME Pathway Coordinator and Instructor. “We had students running around with cameras conducting interviews.”

The on-site team brought back the footage to the classroom, where the Performing Arts pathway cohort collaborated in post-production. Recently, the students presented their finished product to a pleased Plumas District Hospital board and hospital foundation board. Soon, the video will make its public debut on the medical conference’s website.

Industry partner and conference co-founder Dr. Jeffrey Kepple couldn’t be more pleased with the film. 

“It was wonderful to see the students capturing great moments as the event unfolded and then to see their creativity in bringing those moments to a final production,” says Kepple. “This video will be a wonderful advertising and educational tool for years to come.”

“It’s a real-world project,” adds Willis, who cites authentic experience as a cornerstone of the AME pathways’ instructional approach.

The sector is one of nine CTE options available to students, along with Agriscience, Manufacturing, Public Safety, and Patient Care. AME is one of the oldest and most developed CTE options at Plumas Charter School, with the main pathways including Production and Managerial Arts courses integrated into the Performing Arts pathway.  The program incorporates instrumental music, video production, and digital audio, with a formalized light tech course under development. Thanks to K12 Strong Workforce support, students work on industry-standard equipment, including MacBooks and iPads, with plans to obtain video equipment for future client projects.

“It’s really interesting and nice to get an early head start in potential careers,” says 11th grader Xander McGill, one of the video editors of the medical conference video. He says his favorite part of school is participating in these unique CTE classes. Through a partnership with the local West End Theatre, McGill is also learning stage tech and was recently part of the light crew for a live performance. As the junior says, “It’s opening up a lot of opportunities for jobs.”

According to industry partner Kelsea Johnson, Executive Director of the West End Theatre, the revived interest in arts, media, and entertainment is timely.

“There are gaps that need to be filled within our artistic community here in rural Quincy,” says Johnson. “There are a lot more jobs within the theater industry than people are aware of. … I need some really reliable staff down the line to come in and help me work the theater in a way that is industry standard.”

As a subject matter expert, Johnson also teaches students right at the theater, imparting professional skills in lighting and sound design. She even bridges advanced topics like specialty makeup and fight choreography — “anything that not only helps them to grow but what also could be a future vocation,” says Johnson.

Students recently led a theater production on every front. While teens were on stage performing, the Production and Managerial Arts crew filmed, with McGill running lights and sound, “something the theater didn’t have about three months ago,” says Johnson. “It’s been really lovely to watch students blossom. … Everybody over here is so on fire to make sure these kids learn exactly what they need to know.

“I’m excited to see this partnership grow and last a long time.”

According to proud instructor Willis, “Our students are being deployed as employees right now.” In fact, beyond doing lights, sound, recording, and video post-production for the local theater, McGill and his teammates will run the lights at the Quincy Star Follies, an annual fundraiser for the Feather River College Foundation.

“Any events that we have at the fairgrounds, these students are now qualified to do tech, and that’s where we had a gap in our community,” says Dr. Lisa Kelly, K-12 Pathway Coordinator. “Once everybody started working together, the energy and the momentum were tremendous, and now we have more people asking to join the pathway program.”

The chance to take performance and tech classes at the local theater is open to all students in Plumas County. This pilot course is scheduled during the academic day, and the Plumas Charter School has a flexible schedule to accommodate the on-the-set learning. As the program grows, as with the PHESI program, accommodations will be made for students who are only able to attend after school hours.

“We actually got to do hands-on work with the lights, recording shows, and then being there for practice,” says junior Brianna Roper.  “I’m excited for performances and getting that work experience.”

Students also have the option for unique concurrent enrollment with Sierra College. Though about 150 miles away, distance is no barrier with online courses in Sierra’s Media and Event Production Certificate, which teaches light, sound, and video skills.

“Students can fast-track a certificate of achievement with Sierra College that will plug them right into jobs and entrepreneurship,” says Willis.

Sierra College is also building the certificate track into a full two-year degree, offering further possibilities for professional development on top of the robust short-term award. Willis says, “People who do that certificate program are working in the industry.”

For ninth-grader William Coelho, the Production and Managerial Arts pathway has allowed him to have a blast while building a future career.

“These classes have really helped me develop my creative passions, and it’s just amazing the stuff I’m getting to learn in these classes,” gushes Coelho. “The technology skills can be applicable in so many fields.”

According to his mentor at the theater, for learners like Coelho, opportunity knocks. 

“Will is definitely one of those students I see really prospering in something like this,” says Johnson. “He has the talent, grit, and determination if it’s ultimately something he decided he wanted for his life.”

Students glean many skills in event production and beyond in the pathway, including planning, collaboration, business management, and entrepreneurship. 

“These skills are transferable skills, which is one of the outstanding attributes of CTE,” says Kelly. “The brilliance of CTE and the clever arranging of content makes it so we can develop fundamental skill sets that are transferable to almost any sector.”

Take McGill, whose grandfather put on productions for Merle Haggard, and his father also worked in audio video. While the junior says light and sound production “feels like it’s in my blood,” he plans to put his CTE know-how to work in his “dream job” as an electrician. After trying out real-life lighting and sound skills in the Production and Managerial Arts pathway, he says, “It seems like a feasible goal to me.”

Meanwhile, his classmate Coelho confides that what he’s learning in the Production and Managerial Arts pathway gives him the grit to overcome and excel.

Says the first-year student, “It gives me hope for the future, in what I can do, and in what I can become.”

March 2024