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Sony funds new program at GLOW Academy to increase equity, diversity in digital media industries | Port City Daily

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WILMINGTON –- The only public single-gender charter school in the state, GLOW Academy, is getting a financial boost for a new endeavor that puts diversity and inclusion at the forefront of one of Wilmington’s most renowned industries: film and television.

As part of the 2021-22 school year, GLOW has launched a new multimedia digital arts curriculum, funded by a partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Sony Global Social Justice Fund. It will teach 8th graders and high-school students digital media programming that will prepare them for careers in film and TV, journalism, and digital media arts.

“When we announced in March that we were going to be doing media classes, there was no scaffolding around the pedagogy at the time,” GLOW’s CEO, Todd Godbey, told reporters Wednesday.

Yet, students signed up to fill the 25 seats quickly.

Now, ahead of the first week of school, the programming is five-courses deep, with a studio and multimedia lab outfitted with high-end equipment. Adobe Creative Suite programs will be available for students to learn graphic design; multitudes of digital and video cameras will be offered to teach photography and videography skills.

“We’ll have audio stations where they work on podcasting,” GLOW’s digital arts teacher, Michael Frederick, said.

Students will learn about layout and design in publishing GLOW’s yearbook, and will have opportunities to create school news and host broadcasts. Frederick also foresees cross-programming with other departments, like building recipe layouts for the school’s culinary arts sector or doing projects with its various STEM classes.

“As much as possible, we will take their assignments from some sort of theoretical abstract assignment and really connect it to the community,” Frederick said.

Giving students real-world experiences is the goal and Frederick envisions it building client relationships within the business community too. The school also will create partnerships with CFCC and UNCW.

The digital media program gained traction earlier in the year after the leadership committee suggested the charter invest in more specialized curricula highlighting innovative thinking and problem-solving. More so, it wanted to choose areas that help students break through in industries that could use more diversity, since the school’s students are 70% minority from underserved areas in the community.

GLOW founder Judy Girard — who worked as a television executive for years and received a lifetime achievement Emmy —  mentioned to Godbey how an acquaintance she met may be of help. It ended up being Tony Vinciquerra, the president of Sony Pictures.

“So I informally emailed him one day,” Godbey said. “Three days later, we had a Zoom meeting.”

Sony Pictures started a Global Social Justice Fund in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests in June 2020. The international corporation established $100 million to donate to initiatives that further advance inclusion, equity and diversity, as well as work toward social justice, both inside and outside of its Sony Group companies.

GLOW’s goal is to provide a direct pipeline of female talent from all backgrounds and ethnicities directly into the digital-arts industry to improve the statistics in areas like journalism. Women account for only 41.7% of the overall workforce in newsrooms, with 22.6% being people of color, according to the 2019 report from Women’s Media Center. Likewise, behind the scenes in the film industry, women make up 23% — minorities, even less — according to 2020’s top grossing 250 flicks, as noted by The Celluloid Ceiling at San Diego State University.

“I told Tony about the program we envisioned at GLOW,” Godbey recalled. “They said, ‘Oh my gosh — we’ve been trying to figure out how to do this. We want to invest in solving the problem; we want to be part of the answer. We want to do more work in North Carolina.’”

Sony’s contribution — donation amounts were not disclosed — will support building out GLOW’s program for a few years, adding more equipment and staff, as well as funding GLOW Academy’s College Bound program and helping with operating costs.

“Sony and others want to do more films here,” Godbey said. “But when they come here, the diversity in the crew is lacking. And most of these companies are now putting mandates in place about a certain percentage of their crew, a certain percentage of their cast has to be diverse, which is fantastic. But then it becomes hard to come to Wilmington, North Carolina, to shoot things because of the lack of diversity.”

Godbey envisions GLOW being a trailblazer when it comes to teaching and integrating students into the digital media platform. Part of that outreach will include guest speakers and talent from various professions mentoring students and showing them how to apply what they’re learning. GLOW announced Wilmington-based director and creator of “Outer Banks,” Jonas Pate, already agreed to host a few lectures, and has lined up the “Outer Banks” cast to sit in via Zoom on assignments and question-and-answer sessions.

“It’s incredible, I think, for students to have those opportunities and see, in a very authentic way, what the end product is,” GLOW’s new principal Kate Tayloe said. “There are so many pieces to producing something and that takes a lot of different skill sets and a lot of different interests. So I think it’s also going to be a lot of fun to see how students find their niche in this program, and what they’re really drawn to in terms of this work because so much of it happens behind the camera.”

Frederick clarified the digital media program envelops more than just film. In fact, it presents numerous broad opportunities for students to tap into. “If you look at the landscape today for jobs, most companies need a website, they need video work, they need advertising. So all of these skills are what we’re building in this class set,” he said.

The Sony partnership has already provided the purchase of professional-grade LED lighting, microphones, cloth backdrops, computers, and Sony Bravia TVs for digital backgrounds. It also has 28 Sony ZV-1 cameras, six Sony PXW-Z190 cameras, and two Sony PZT cameras to use in live production on a Sony MCX-500 streaming and recorder switch.

“They’re nicer than any camera I’ve gotten in my professional career,” Frederick said.

Frederick worked in video production across the states, doing corporate cable television and national news. He also worked for the University of Alabama and did content for a political campaign before moving to Wilmington. He was employed at PPD for three years before coming to GLOW for his first semester this fall.

“This partnership with Sony is incredible,” Frederick said. “These resources don’t come cheap.”

“Also, I think these tools getting down to students who wouldn’t normally have them, it increases who has access and what voices we’re hearing,” he added. “That’s great for the community.”

Kate Tayloe has been in the education industry for 20 years and will be the new principal at GLOW Academy for the 2021-22 school year. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

The digital arts program will evolve as it garners feedback from students and Frederick. Though at its most basic the program will provide a course load in media literacy, principal Tayloe sees it as so much more: a vehicle to build confidence and encourage a transformative learning experience.

“I think a program like this enables the students who are at GLOW to be able to really have an upper hand,” she stated. “It’s unlike any program that I’m aware of, especially starting in middle school. . . . [it’s] really giving them that edge when they are ready to pursue, whether it’s internships while they’re in high school, or applying for colleges and looking at specific college programs, or even work that would be available to them in high school and beyond.”

GLOW Academy currently has spots open for their enrollment in sixth through ninth grades. The free charter school launched in 2016 with its first sixth-grade class and has added a sixth grade class annually since. Its first graduating class will earn degrees next year, 2022-23.

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