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Telecom crew adjusts to modified grad ceremonies

TV truck with crew members in blue shirts stationed around the truckThe NNPS-TV/Telecom crew poses with the TV truck at Todd Stadium.
Photo: Keli Slusher/NNPS

Telecom staff, students and graduates made up the TV crew for the NNPS graduations held at Todd Stadium in mid-June. The team video-recorded all six high school graduation ceremonies, which will be replayed on NNPS-TV in July.

Additionally, they live-streamed the events on YouTube and broadcast them live on NNPS-TV. DVD's will be produced with edited versions of the ceremonies.

The NNPS graduations were a moving target for quite a while, as the COVID-19 shutdown and various governor's orders made planning large events a huge challenge.

Once it was decided that modified versions of the ceremonies could take place in Todd Stadium with minimal attendees, social distancing, and face masks for everyone, the Telecom TV crew knew they would be doing something very different from in the past.

For years the graduations have been at the Hampton Coliseum (An Achievable Dream's at the Ferguson Center) and each year, the NNPS Telecommunications Center video-records the graduations for broadcast on NNPS-TV Cox 47/Fios 17. That production works like a well-oiled machine, with Telecom Supervisor Ray Price as Producer, veteran TV/video producer Bill Barlow directing, Telecom instructor Carl Daniels, Jr. serving as Production Assistant/Graphics and NNPS-TV Broadcast Engineer Greg Lesko in charge of the broadcast and internet signals. Telecom students and grads made up the rest of the crew, including Technical Director, Stage Manager, and Camera Operators.

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This year was a bit different, with Barlow staying home to avoid the risk of COVID-19. He has been working on NNPS-TV live broadcasts for over 25 years, and has over 50 years' experience in the video production business. His expertise was greatly missed, but safety precautions were deemed most important. In his absence, Price and Daniels directed the broadcasts.

Gabe Odachowski, who graduated from Menchville High and Telecom in 2018, served as Assistant Engineer, and was integral to providing the YouTube live stream of the ceremonies.

The TV production truck was parked at Todd Stadium the same as for live or taped football games. The weather wasn't entirely cooperative, so some days the camera operators outfitted the cameras with protective gear.

The crew was there for long hours each day, Monday through Friday, for six graduations (two were held on Friday).

student at computer in dark room
The Telecom student Technical Director works inside the TV truck.
Photo: Beth Scott/NNPS-TV

Working the graduation TV production is excellent training for the Telecom students. Recording the ceremonies involves many workers in a wide variety of roles, from Stage Manager to Camera Operator to Audio Technician. And since there are a number of ceremonies, TV production students can try different jobs.

The students work on a number of video productions during the school year, like School Board meetings, sports, and awards banquets, which air on NNPS-TV. They learn how to use the equipment, create computer graphics, and mix audio, plus gain experience in setup and strike, and following and giving direction.

Non-staff crew members are paid as interns when they work on productions for the school division, so the students and grads can earn money while gaining experience.

Eleanor Stuck, a 2017 Telecom graduate, was part of the team. This year was special for her since her brother, Joshua, also a Telecom student, graduated from Denbigh High. He worked five of the six graduations - all of them except his own..

Brandon Hedgepeth, another graduating Telecom student, did the same. He graduated from Woodside High.

2 students with TV camera covered in rain gear
Telecom TV crew members were ready for the rain.
Photo: Beth Scott/NNPS-TV

"I never allow a student to work their own graduation," said Price, "because it’s the students‘ and their families' day to shine."

Telecom students who worked the graduations were:

Joshua Stuck - Technical Director
Brandon Hedgepeth - Floor Director
Eric Demarchi - Camera
Julian Banks - Camera

Besides Eleanor Stuck and Odachowski, other Telecom graduates who worked on the productions were:

Derick Miracle - Technical Director
Collin Smalls - Camera
Tyson Odette - Camera
Darin Cooper - Camera

The graduation production went well, except for a couple challenges, like YouTube not allowing "Pomp and Circumstance" to live stream for hours. Normally it is only played for a short time during the graduation ceremonies, but this year it played constantly over the Todd Stadium P.A. system for the entire event. YouTube gave an error and forced the production team to remove the audio after an hour or two into the program.

Also, the ceremonies were very long, because the graduates and families had to social distance and crowds had to be kept small. People arrived in small groups according to how many vehicles could park. Hence, there were gaps when there were no graduates walking across the stage. For the live broadcast, the production team switched to screens detailing the accomplishments of the particular graduating class. For the re-broadcast on NNPS-TV and the DVD's that will be produced, these screens had to be painstakingly edited out.

The keepsake DVD's of the ceremonies can be ordered for only $20 by July 31. The funds raised from the sales are used for students to participate in SkillsUSA events and competitions.

Despite the challenges from the restrictions on crowds and the weather, the NNPS-TV broadcast was successful and much appreciated by family members and friends who could not attend in person. The team did a phenomenal job being prepared for anything and making it work for the long haul.

Said Price, "I was very proud of the crew's hard work and their resilience through the changing weather to commemorate the graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020."

NNPS-TV broadcast schedule:

NNPS-TV Cox 47/Fios 17 will broadcast each high school graduation four times during the weeks of July 13 and July 20. The webstream may be seen online at nnpstv.com during the TV broadcast. There is also a live stream of the channel on the NNPS-TV video site, and on the NNPS-TV Roku and Apple TV channels.

An Achievable Dream: Monday, July 13, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Monday, July 20, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Denbigh High School: Tuesday, July 14, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Tuesday, July 21, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Heritage High School: Wednesday, July 15, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Wednesday, July 22, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Menchville High School: Thursday, July 16, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Thursday, July 23, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Warwick High School: Friday, July 17, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Friday, July 24, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Woodside High School: Saturday, July 18, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Saturday, July 25, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.