Learning through a different lens
Educators at Manhattan’s HS for Environmental Studies have found a new way to infuse environmental issues in the curriculum: through the lens of a TV camera.
In teacher Ariana Cramer’s Environmental Media Studio elective, students gain experience both in front of and behind the camera using state-of-the-art television production equipment.
Cramer’s students recently put together a documentary-style project about the sustainable lunch menu at the school in Hell’s Kitchen.
“We try to find environmental angles on daily life at the school,” said Cramer.
Another project on the horizon, said Cramer, will involve the climate crisis. Many HS for Environmental Studies students participated in the September 2019 climate strike and took video they can use in their films.
Glen Pandolfino, the UFT chapter leader and a dean at the school, said the class integrates the school’s eco-conscious mission.
“We want them to be environmentally aware, responsible global citizens,” he said. “So we try to bring sustainability into every class.”
Cramer says the students take naturally to the demands of a TV studio.
“They’re so attached to their phones,” she said. “They’re already taking photos and videos all the time. Now we can move from the phone to an actual camera and ask, ‘How do we take a good shot? What goes into it?’”
On a recent afternoon, the studio fills with more than a dozen students, who quickly swing into action at gleaming banks of screens, buttons and dials. They operate cameras, a teleprompter and sound equipment, or position themselves at a professional- looking glass anchor desk or tufted-leather chairs to conduct peerto- peer interviews.
Many of the projects are student- generated, including 15-minute educational videos for their peers about the school’s AP classes and electives.
“They have a lot of freedom,” said Cramer.
The media studio began life as a basic film class. Its current incarnation launched in 2018 under the direction of Maximilian Sugiura, a former assistant principal who is now the principal at Manhattan’s HS of Art and Design.
Sugiura said his idea for the class was “to use the media arts to give students experience in producing environmental content that is relevant from the classroom to the community.”
Jessica Arkin, HS for Environmental Studies’ college and career counselor, has a relationship with CBS Broadcasting, which has a studio across the street and sponsors a scholarship at the school. She helped arrange for the network to donate the production equipment. CBS technicians worked with the school to set up the studio and provided training for staff members.
Cramer took over the program this school year. This spring, she hopes to replace at least some of the school’s morning announcements with a prerecorded video program produced in the studio.
Fellow teacher Sari Rosenberg, who also works as the school’s Partnerships and Internship Coordinator, is particularly excited by that idea.
“My dream is to have a weekly program in lieu of the morning announcements,” Rosenberg said. “They could have an environmental topic of the week.”
The HS for Environmental Studies, which is in a building that once was a 21st Century Fox movie studio, is trying to get state Career and Technical Education certification for the media studio class, along with its culinary program and a robotics program developed in partnership with Cornell University. With that goal in mind, Cramer is working with her students on several professional pathways.
“For students who are interested in film, we did movies and movie trailers, and we looked at some of the great filmmakers and directors that inspired them,” she said. “We made music videos for students interested in producing music.”
The students are also learning about news programming, a subject close to Cramer’s heart — she has a journalism degree and worked for NBC News before becoming a teacher.
Cramer said bringing a career-focused lens to the studio has paid off.
“Many of the students who took this class, which is an elective,” she said, now “are motivated to choose a career.”