October 1st, 2015

Digital Playground popular

His name is Alex and he was in the eighth grade last February when he anchored the “Greenwood News.” He enthusiastically reports the arrival of new students on campus and the basketball team’s recent victory after four losses.

He reacts with comical shivering after another student finishes a snowy weather report and reminds viewers about the upcoming Annual Gettsyburg Gala, where students continue the tradition of reciting the Gettysburg Address before a panel of judges.

“He’s a highly energetic kid, but when he’s working on these movies, he’s in one spot,” said Benjamin Stimson, who runs his own film production company, but two days a week brings his real world experience to Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, where he teaches filmmaking and digital entrepreneurship.

The news video with Alex is just one example of student work produced by the digital arts initiatives at Greenwood, a small boarding school for boys with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, executive functioning problems, and ADD/ADHD.

Located in southeastern Vermont, Greenwood was recently named a School of Excellence by the National Association of Special Education Teachers.

Greenwood’s hands-on programs in digital arts – including Web site and graphic design, 3D art, videography and editing, music composition, animation and game design – allow students to explore their creativity, and engage in collaborative problem-solving.

A new Digital Playground was named after a staff brainstorming session, said Headmaster Stewart Miller.

“It really gets into that’s what the kids are doing. They’re playing, they’re experimenting, they’re discovering. We want it to be a safe place to play, to take risks and to develop new ideas,” Miller said.

The school’s 58 students in grades 6 through 12 come from about 15 states. The average class size is five. The staff totals 46 adults working with students.

The school’s new Innovation Center houses its digital arts program, which includes an entrepreneurship program started last year by Stimson.

The program creates a startup company in each of the school’s three terms. Students come up with a product or service and go through the various stages of creating it, conducting research, developing packaging and branding and bringing it to market.

Last winter, the young entrepreneurs established The Distinguished Dog, creating dog treats that were sold in local stores. One measure of their success: “I think we were close to breaking even,” Stimson said.

“Probably 70 percent of our teachers have dogs and they’re all on campus. We had a great testing market,” Stimson said.

Filmmaking projects offer a variety of opportunities that appeal to different kids. Introverted types are engaged with the behind-the-scenes technology involved in shooting and editing while the outwardly creative enjoy being in front of the camera.

There’s enough to do that it seems all participants find something to hold their focus, Stimson said.

“Our job as teachers is to motivate kids because we know that when they’re having fun, they’re learning,” Stimson said.

The school does keep an eye on how much sedentary time students are spending with technology, Miller added.

“We’re so fortunate we have a 100 acre campus so there’s a strong emphasis on the outdoors,” Miller said. “Certainly we have kids that gravitate more to the digital components. … If a kid on a weekend is really engaged in a creative project, we’re okay with that too. Of course it’s a balance.”

By Janine Weisman

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