FAIRHAVEN — Fairhaven High School has garnered some recent notoriety in the world of media production thanks to one student’s National Student Production Award.
Last Tuesday, Fairhaven High graduate Sean Flynn was presented with the award — known as a Student Emmy — from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his submission in the video essay category. His essay — described by the NATAS as a single or multi-part news story that is shot and edited by the submitter — delved into his then place of employment, New Bedford’s Greasy Luck Brewery.
Though Flynn eventually won the award, he explained that the acknowledgment came as an utter surprise to him. So much so that he even hinted to his family via a group text that they probably didn’t need to watch.
“You can tune in,” said Flynn. “I’m probably not going to win though.”
Flynn, now studying communications at Florida State University, says that he nearly missed the announcement due to scheduling confusion between his announcement time, and the end of his afternoon psychology course.
“I was like the twenty-second category, so I thought I’d make it back to my dorm,” said Flynn. “When I turned on the livestream as I was walking back to watch Mike and Jeff’s my category came up right away.”
The other two students he referred to are Mike Sargent and Jeff Szynal, whom were also nominated for Student Emmys in the short form non-fiction category. In addition to Flynn, Sargent, and Szynal, Kelsey Pereira was also nominated for her submission in the audio/sound recording category.
With these victories and nominations, the media production program has solidified itself as a stalwart of the school’s resume of success. However, it didn’t happen overnight.
Drew Furtado’s days feel a lot different now.
Furtado used to chase stories and tell them through the lens of his camera with WFXT in Boston and WJAR in Providence. He speaks with the expertise of a 10-year industry veteran.
"One of the major differences between the industry and teaching is I feel like my day is much more positive," said Furtado.
Now, he is in his fifth year as the media production teacher at Fairhaven High. From year one to present he has seen the program grow from 20 students to 138, and his vision shift from merely keeping his head above water to watching students excel on a national platform under his guidance.
"I wanted to make this program a program that was meaningful," Furtado said. "I didn’t want it to just be a video class where students make funny videos, I wanted it to be something a little bit bigger."
Not only does Furtado allow students the chance to do so in his media 1 through 4 classes, but he has the achievements to supply a framework for which doing so is possible.
During his 10 years in television news he was awarded a New England Emmy Award for his work. Additionally, in April of 2014, he was selected as the Vimeo challenge winner for his portrait of his hometown — Fall River — which he submitted to the One Day on Earth challenge.
With this knowledge, Furtado has been able to curate an environment that promotes self-starting and boundary-pushing. In addition, he’s been able to spark the same fire for videography and film-making that burns within himself.
"These students have a voice, and it’s a powerful voice and they have an ability to impact people," said Furtado. "You’re starting to see students exercise that right and the ability to empower themselves, and that is so inspiring to me."
According to Furtado, the program has elevated to this point due to his ability to learn from past failure, and a working relationship with his students in which feedback is not only appreciated, but often implemented.
"I look at the lesson plans I used for the first year and I’m like, "Man, I can’t believe I tried that,"" said Furtado. "Because it failed, we met a lot of failure."
Through his continued effort to better himself and the program, Furtado has grown pleased — but not complacent — with trusting the process of subtle improvement.
"That’s the thing about art," he said. "Art is not just ‘produce this painting, produce this sketch, produce this studio.’ There’s a journey to get there."
The students in Furtado’s media class — in their third and fourth years with the program — were wearing pajamas one recent Friday morning. Furtado said it was the beginning of spirit week at the high school, so the students would be dressed a little differently for the most part.
And unless students usually dressed in one-piece pajama versions of a unicorn or a duck, he would be correct.
Molly Antone, a media four student, was also in pajamas. Antone and her partner Grace Pelletier were working on an interactive film project which she described as a "choose your own adventure," but in film version.
The project is in collaboration with the coding team at Fairhaven High, and Antone and Pelletier are tasked with providing the video element. She says that in order to create the proper content, the duo must film multiple clips in various scenarios "so that the person that’s playing can have different outcomes and choose whichever way they want to go."
Antone says that Furtado approached them with the idea, pitching it as a joint project with the coding team. "He said it was going to be a really big one," said Antone. "We just had to come up with the idea."
This project is the first of its kind for the media production program, though Furtado intends to make specialty content like this more common as the progression continues.
Though his vision often guides what the future holds for the various classes, Furtado often relies on feedback and takes influence from students.
"You look at the groups of students I’ve had over the years and they’ve helped develop this class," said Furtado. "I’ve continually looked for feedback from them. We’ve got a great working relationship."
The culture of shared inspiration doesn’t only happen between teacher and student, but additionally between students.
"It’s amazing how students look up to each other," said Furtado.
The teacher shared an anecdote about a piece entitled "Dear Meghan," produced by Sargent and Szynal, and nominated for a Student Emmy in the short-form non-fiction category.
Prior to creating the piece — dedicated to his late sister — Sargent viewed a fellow student’s work, which was submitted for a regional Emmy but did not receive an award. Toward the end of that year, Furtado said that student was presenting her portfolio, and received high praise from Sargent. "Mike said the reason (he) made ‘Dear Meghan’ was because of the way (she) shot this piece," said Furtado.
This was a moment Furtado cited as a time where the vision for the program was starting to be realized.
"So now you’re seeing this trickle-down effect," said Furtado. "You see these seniors and juniors shooting amazing stuff, and the sophomore and freshmen kids are like "Whoa, I want to do that."
Evan Stanley is a student in Furtado’s media four class, despite it being his first year taking one of the media production courses.
"I always wanted to do this, but my schedule never worked out," said Stanley.
Stanley’s entry point into the world of film was through riding BMX with his friends and filming it.
As a self-taught videographer and editor, Stanley says that one of the biggest perks to the more "straight-forward" class environment is having access to an expanded library of technology. "I would always just wing it and figure things out on my own," said Stanley. "But now I actually have technology to be able to do some cool stuff."
Part of what fuels Furtado to provide these tools for the students is his dedication to the craft, but also a desire to give them a broader knowledge base than he had coming out of high school.
"I took a video program at Fall River," said Furtado. "It got me passionate about things but it was nothing of this nature."
The approach has created an aura of success around the program that Furtado believes is cultivating an understanding of what it takes to be a high-performing production student.
He points to Sean Flynn’s National Emmy award last year and a total of 15 Regional Emmy awards since the inception of the program as something students can look to as motivation.
"Kids, all of a sudden, see this a-ha moment," said Furtado. "This is what it takes to be a high-performing, successful student, the dedication, the drive, the aesthetic look of it."
He once again references Flynn as an example of these three elements.
"You look at a student like Sean and you look at that piece," said Furtado. "That didn’t just happen. That was a month-and-a-half-long process of Sean going through various steps."
A step-by-step process is not something with which Furtado is unfamiliar. And while he is pleased with the program’s success so far, he doesn’t intend to cap it anytime soon.