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A Creative Outlet

Behind an inconspicuous door on the second floor of the Thompson-Jones Library with “the studio” etched on the window lies a space with unlimited potential. This “digital makerspace” is the brainchild of Providence Day Librarians Nicole Collins and Corley May. This converted classroom is a space where faculty and students can record podcasts, music, and videos for both academic and personal projects.

Today you will find students working on independent projects, recording songs, and creating broadcast videos in the studio. Adding a new experience on the athletics front, a group of three students has developed a fullservice pre-game show – à la ESPN’s Sportscenter – using the green screen and lights. The students stream during the game and conclude with post-game interviews using the green screen and microphones.

The use of the space does not stop there. The junior class used the green screen for homecoming videos and several classes have filmed mock-news sessions. Last year, Rebecca Roemer’s class coded computer-generated scenes using Alice software, used those scenes as backgrounds for a video, and interacted with that background using the screen. Other students host their own shows, while a number of students participate in Global Online Academy courses taught by experienced faculty from renowned peer schools all over the world, or interact with virtual classmates during study hall using Facetime.

Multiple projects can happen at once in the studio. Several students come to record music; even Lower School students have come in to record a song, using a mic with a background track. Students save their work to one of two desktops or the cloud and can come by after school, upload the project to their personal drive, and take the work home. “It is most exciting when kids can come in for their own projects to pursue something they are interested in,” says May, the Middle School Librarian.

The space for the studio has evolved several times over. In September of 2018, the studio space was in the back corner of the library and stocked with only a few microphones. As the librarians were trying to weave digital storytelling into the curriculum with the help of Upper School English teacher Matt Spence, they realized it would be nice to have more equipment and a quiet place to record.

When the strategic vision for the library was completed four years ago, one of the main goals was to create a Digital Makerspace. “Makerspaces have been trending in the library community,” says May. “Students are still delivering information found in research with presentation products. This is evolving and we wanted a digital tinker space where they could put together audio, pull together video, and play with the green screen.”

Shooting for the moon, Collins, the Upper School Librarian and Department Chair, wrote a grant using a “pie-in-the-sky vision” of what equipment Providence Day should have. “We wanted to know what tools students and teachers wanted,” she says. Collins and May received the Robert C. Hollmeyer Endowment Fund for Economics and Technology, established in 2006 in memory of a former parent and former Trustee. This funding provides professional development opportunities for faculty to explore innovative and engaging ways to utilize technology within the classroom.

With the grant, the duo purchased two machines for editing, some high-quality permanent microphones, portable microphones available for checkout, and a podcasting station. However, Collins recognizes that “every new tool becomes an old tool; this is really a very malleable space. As video technology and trends change and grow, we are able to meet those needs.”

Faculty love using the space, and it is used to record the official Providence Day podcast, “From the Horse’s Mouth.” Spence and Collins took a class on podcasting and created “Queen City Stories,” which explores Charlotte's narrative through interviews with community activists, organizations, citizens, and city officials who support community uplift. It’s available on Apple Podcasts and other major podcast outlets.

Collins is working to involve faculty in future interviews, with a goal of fitting students into the lineup if they want to contribute without doing their own podcast. This is an opportunity for students who want to learn recording or editing to leverage personal connections with faculty during interviews.

May feels the projects and people making their way through the space are inspiring. Students who graduated last year and had not yet seen the studio came into the space at the end of the year and made their own podcast recordings. Depending upon their experience and familiarity with the equipment, some Upper School students are very self-sufficient, while Collins might stay and help others who need more assistance.

Collins’s goal is to reach more students this year since she is not sure that they know the space exists and how to use it. She hopes they will have a good idea of what is offered and wants them to know that they have permission to use it for both class assignments and personal interest. Last year, there were 20 visits within the first few months just from word-of-mouth, so the news is spreading.

Both Collins and May believe the space has not realized its full potential yet. “It has grown organically based on needs, but we would love for all students to know it’s here and available to use,” says Collins. To book the space, it’s best to contact the librarians in person or via email, but it’s also fine to just show up and check on availability. The more projects that come in, the greater the need to book space in advance.

“We are always open to recommendations,” says Collins. “As a student, please let us know of the things you would like to use for creating, projects, books, equipment – let us know and we will look into purchasing it.”

Want to schedule time in the studio? Contact the Librarians! Nicole Collins Upper School Librarian and Department Head (704) 887-7580 Corley May Middle School Librarian (704) 887-6026 Photo by Sara Riggsby Photo by Mike McCarn Collins is also the producer of the podcast "Queen City Stories," featuring many members of the PD community as it explores Charlotte's narrative through stories of community uplift. It's available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other favorite podcast sites.

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