Klamath Falls, Oregon – Three teens stand six feet apart at Ponderosa Middle School’s student entrance, waving to a drone camera hovering above. An iPhone secured to a tripod records them entering the school, beckoning an invisible audience to follow. The students move from classroom to cafeteria, choir room to computer lab, patiently documenting a day in the life of a sixth-grade student.
This is the making of a virtual tour that will introduce fifth graders in the Klamath Falls City School district to the middle school they will attend for the next three years. In a May without social distancing requirements, fifth graders would take a field trip to tour Ponderosa in person.
Sixth grader Brent Peterson is enthusiastic about lunch choices. “You can buy frozen yogurt at the Snack Shack!” he says.
“You’ll come here for assemblies, concerts and dances,” says eighth grader Dakota Age in the larger of Ponderosa’s two gymnasiums.
Eighth grader Alyssa Fisher points to a white line painted around the perimeter of the blacktop where kids play basketball and foursquare at recess. “You’ll stand outside the line to wait for your bus after school,” she explains.
The virtual tour video will be linked to every fifth-grader’s Google Classroom – the online platform where students receive and submit classroom assignments each week. It also will be posted online, where the district also will provide written and live Q&As.
“The school closure means everyone has to learn new skills and do extra work to support our community’s kids,” said Superintendent Paul Hillyer. “But it also means we are growing more inventive and resilient. This video is just one example of so many creative formats our teachers and staff are using for outreach, celebrations and trainings during this time of social distancing.”
Among the district’s most creative educators is drone operator and cameraman Dan Stearns, who teaches media design courses at Klamath Union High School, including a series that earn dual credit through Klamath Community College.
Stearns is known for overseeing students’ award-winning films, the KU yearbook, “KU & YOU” student life videos, and community opportunities for students to practice their craft.
Just before schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stearns’s students completed several virtual video tours of hard-to-visit spaces at Sky Lakes Medical Center, including the emergency department, birthing center and catheter lab. Their next professional project (during spring break) was to have been videos, photography and graphic design for the Hawaiian Institute of Pacific Agriculture.
While they are disappointed by the loss of the Hawaii trip, media students have embraced new projects closer to home, including the virtual tour of Ponderosa, short films for the 2020 48/48 Film Festival and three “KU & YOU” videos with messages of hope and encouragement for their peers.
Next, they will work with Stearns on a virtual tour of KU for incoming ninth graders and a graduation video for the class of 2020, to be projected on a Megatron screen at a drive-in commencement at Moore Park on Sunday, June 7.
“It was hard to accept that we weren’t going to be able to go to Hawaii and would miss out on doing wedding coverage this spring,” said junior Shelby Huggins, “but being part of media design is giving me something to work on and work toward during quarantine. I feel fortunate to have a sense of purpose. The restrictions mean we can’t always film what we want or be together, but it’s creating a lot of growth as we work through the challenges.”