This high school program gives students hands-on experience in photo, audio, film, and screenwriting

How do we prepare Indiana youth for the future? How do we set students up for success, help them love learning, and get inspired? 

In an increasingly competitive, digital, and media-driven world, hands-on training in the Media Arts can be an answer to these questions. For students in Northeast Indiana, the Honeywell Heartland Media Arts Program, based in Wabash, offers an extensive course in video and sound equipment, editing, photography, and screenwriting.

First year students Ethan Taylor and William McKinney attempt to capture motion as part of their Basic Photography class.The Honeywell Foundation, in partnership with the Heartland Career Center, has been instrumental in providing this training and experience to students, as Honeywell’s founder Mark Honeywell himself was an amateur filmmaker. The Foundation began investing in the arts long before the proliferation of social media.

In 1998, the Honeywell Foundation’s Arts in Education Program became an extension of the arts and cultural programming that the Honeywell Center has been known for since 1941. According to Kristi Unger, Director of Education for Honeywell, more than 40,000 learning experiences are given to students encompassing much of Northeast Indiana each year. What makes the Arts in Education program valuable is that it is, as Unger explains, “a collection of arts learning opportunities that integrate the arts with state standards, allowing students to form a stronger connection to core subject matters taught in the classroom.”

Second-year students Brenden Rowan and Layla Durocher edit a video project.As an outgrowth of Arts in Education, Honeywell and Heartland Career Center, a career and technical education program for high school students, created a program that allows students to experience hands-on training in media arts while earning college credit. The Honeywell Heartland Media Arts Program began in 2017. It provides dual high school and college credit
to students in video and sound production with a focus on preparing students for college and/or a career.

Initially meeting in the Honeywell Center, they soon moved to Wabash’s recently renovated Eagles Theatre, where they utilize professional recording studios and editing suites, as well as have the backdrop of downtown Wabash for use in their projects. 

First-year student Joyce Harvey uses a camera and tripod to take a photo for the Basic Photography class.Honeywell’s Chief Development Officer Cathy Gatchel says the program “allows schools the opportunity to provide this enhanced learning opportunity using state of the art equipment–all while learning in a building that houses two movie screens.” 

In the two-year Media Arts program, students learn photography, audio production, and video production, in addition to developing and writing their own screenplays. They can earn up to nine college credits, along with an option to test for Adobe Certification. Any student whose high school is affiliated with Heartland is eligible to enroll in the program, during which they spend 2.5 hours of the day developing competitive Media Arts skills.

Students Ross Gosnell,Trenton Moore, Layla Durocher, Brenden Rowan, Trystin Music, and Gavin Nique work together on a multi-camera news project.Projects in the Media Arts program vary, but each project builds upon the last, leading to greater mastery. Learning to tell a story through photography helps students transition to more complicated video assignments according to Instructor and Program Head Jessica Keffaber. She’s originally from Wabash, where she graduated from Northfield High School in 2002 and then earned her bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Ball State University. After graduating she worked in television production in LA. Keffaber then decided to move home and pursue teaching. She says her job is the best of both worlds; she gets to play in the world of media and teach it to students who also have a passion for it.

One advanced project Keffaber says students look forward to is the “Foley Project,” where they replace the audio from a movie clip of their choice. Beyond individual projects, they also have the opportunity to develop digital portfolios and participate in a showcase at the end of each school year to demonstrate what they have learned. This year students from seven area high schools have learned not just how to use equipment, but also how to manage real world situations. Keffaber explains how a student does not have to pursue a career in the media field for the program to be worthwhile.

First year students working with cameras in class.“Every project has a deadline,” she says. “A lot of work the students do is in groups. Sometimes they get to choose their groups, and sometimes those groups are chosen for them. The students learn how to work with others whether they are familiar with each other or not. They learn how to complete projects from development and planning through execution.”

In fact, some of Keffaber’s success stories are about students who developed soft skills regardless of their career paths. One student went from having difficulty interacting with classmates to confidently speaking in front of a crowd of more than 100 people, Keffaber says. Another student lacking motivation and work ethic learned to care about quality, evaluations, and improving upon mistakes.

Photo taken and edited by Layla Durocher, Peru High School, as part of a project where multiple photos had to be combined to tell a story.“One thing I tell my students every year is that it’s okay to fail as long as they try,” says Keffaber. “I want them to take risks. I want them to try new things. If it doesn’t work, we’ll figure out what went wrong and how to make sure it works next time. But they’ll never know what they are fully capable of if they don’t take risks.”

With hands-on learning experiences, digital production skills, soft skills, and educated risk-taking, the Honeywell Heartland Media Arts Program helps students prepare for their future today.