The week of the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction is always a tremendous learning experience for high school students in the digital media arts course at Huot Technical Center. They get hands-on experience in live television production that is often reserved for college students.
But they take away something else that’s even more invaluable.
“They get to work with adults who are giving of themselves and are donating their time toward the Auction,” said Ray Sleeper, a Tilton resident who has taught the digital media arts class for eight or nine years. “There are people who take vacations from their full-time jobs and busy lives to volunteer at the Auction. That’s a great thing for kids to see. There’s no better role modeling.”
Ray says having students learn how meaningful community service can be is no doubt Huot Technical Center’s biggest win that comes from its partnership with the Children’s Auction and Lakes Region Public Access Television, which takes the lead on production. Recognizing the importance of giving back is something that sticks with them for the rest of their lives.
“So many kids call me after they’ve graduated because they want to come back and help with filming at the Auction again,” he says. “Even kids who have gone on and done substantial things educationally and career-wise still relate to the experience they had volunteering.”
Having Huot Technical Center students help at the Children’s Auction is a tradition that started about four or five years before Ray took over teaching there. It wasn’t long after Ray, formerly a Laconia High School teacher, accepted the new job that the Auction committee reached out to him about continuing the agreement between the Auction, Huot, and Lakes Region Public Access Television.
Though Ray had listened to the Auction on the radio, he hadn’t seen the televised production. But, after hearing feedback from the committee about how the students help from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, Ray assured them that nothing would change.
“Since then, our relationship has grown,” he says. “The new manager at Lakes Region Public Access Television and I have a great relationship, and the kids have been able to have more responsibility than they did in the past.”
Technically speaking, helping with filming hasn’t been easy. Setting up multiple cameras that can quickly be switched from one viewpoint to the next is complicated, and involves a lot of wiring, creating a concern that one of the students might unplug something that’s crucial.
To minimize those sorts of risks, Ray ensures his students aren’t blindsided. Rather, he develops a curriculum for his three classes—two with juniors who are newcomers to the world of television production, and a third with seniors who have a year’s experience. This extra education on filming, industry vocabulary, and set design, thoroughly prepares students.
Ray even shows students photos and video from the previous years’ Auctions, so they can get a feel for the set and how frantic the pace can be before they experience it first-hand.
“I put into practice having staff from Lakes Region Public Access Television come in and meet with the students ahead of time, so they know the expectations,” he adds.
Though the television production unit of Ray’s curriculum that prepares students for the Children’s Auction is a relatively small piece of their school year, starting a week before Thanksgiving break and ending with the Auction itself in mid-December, Ray knows the educational component contributes significantly to their success when it comes time to film live.
On the first Auction day, the students—usually about 14 per class—file onto a bus that takes them from Huot Technical Center to the Auction venue. They are assigned to one of the six or seven camera positions. They put on their headsets and mics and are guided by a director and technical director. Though the roles of director and technical director have been staffed by adults for the past eight to 10 years, Ray says his students now have a hand in that as well.
By the time they witness the Children’s Auction in action, the students have also been briefed in the fundraiser’s now 38-year history and why the work is so meaningful, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for a host of community nonprofits.
“The educational curriculum we use helps give them a greater appreciation for the process itself,” Ray notes.
Although the students do partake in follow-up television production exercises later in the school year, the Children’s Auction is their only experience with live filming, and one that is hard to come by locally, considering none of the nearby high schools hold live news broadcasts and live filming opportunities are often reserved for college students.
“It’s a tremendous experience for both of us,” Ray says. “Our students get the hands-on experience and relevant learning, and the Children’s Auction gets pretty highly trained kids to help with production for the entire week. Everybody wins.”