DeSoto County Students Lift Spirits of Le Bonheur Patients
DeSoto County Career and Technical Center West (DCCTCW) students gather around Northcentral Electric Cooperative Media Specialist Justin Jaggers (standing at the desk) in the recording studio to learn about working with the professional equipment.
Memphis-based indie rock band Blvck Hippie performs in The Grove recording studio at Hope Church in 2020.
DCCTCW students watch as Memphis-based musician Muck Sticky performs in the studio.
DCCTCW Digital Media instructor Teri Gordon (left) checks graduate Tanner Smart’s camera setup before filming musical performances at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital for the 2019 “Healing Music” documentary.
Musicians and DCCTCW students perform an equipment check between recording sessions in 2020.
From left to right: Gordon, Smart, Jaggers, then-junior Cassidy Carson and graduate Angel Morgan pose before they set up lighting equipment while filming at Le Bonheur Hospital in 2019.
Music has the unique power of bringing people together. On our darkest days, it can brighten our mood and spread a little bit of happiness to get us through hard moments.
For the past several years, digital media students from the DeSoto County Career and Technical Center West (DCCTCW) have experienced the wonderful — and sometimes overwhelming — power of music through outreach for the patients of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.
The opportunity for these students to contribute to such special projects came about by chance with the help of DCCTCW’s corporate sponsorship program, which strives to connect local industry with the career and technical education (CTE) classroom through time and resource donations.
In 2019, DCCTCW digital media teacher Teri Gordon was contacted about a potential gold-level sponsorship for her program from Northcentral Electric Cooperative (NEC), whose leaders wanted students to learn on-the-job skills while contributing to promotional and charitable media projects.
“This has been an opportunity to use our skills and apply them to a meaningful and very real project while also giving back to the community,” Gordon said. “I cannot say enough kind things to Justin [Jaggers, NEC media specialist] and the leadership at NEC for making this happen and for continuing to allow the students to get involved.”
That summer began a fantastic partnership between local industry and CTE students that allowed them to take on real-life experiences in the digital media field with a mentor while they expanded their knowledge of devices and software needed for the job. DCCTCW digital media students worked as interns for Jaggers to produce live entertainment experiences, studio recordings and a documentary of Musicians for Le Bonheur, “Healing Music,” which raised funds for the children’s hospital while providing entertainment for patients.
Jaggers and the interns worked throughout the summer recording local musicians in Memphis at The Grove recording studio at Hope Church and on location at the hospital. Jaggers spent hours showing students the ropes of lighting, filming, photographing, interviewing and editing, which Gordon said was incredibly valuable to her students and the entire digital media program at DCCTCW.
“I tell my kids they are in this class because they have a very creative side of their brain,” Gordon said. “Whether their interest is in filming, graphic design, music or interviewing — whatever it may be — the musicians they are working with have the same exact creative minds. Being around such a diverse group of creative people gave my students a great opportunity to find their niche in digital media production.”
The students learned a lot from this experience and provided so much help in production that Jaggers continued working with Gordon to connect her students to even more learning and service opportunities with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital charities and the Baddour Center, an adult-assistance community located in Senatobia.
As with many aspects of life in 2020, the pandemic brought about major challenges for the continuity of this partnership. Jaggers needed a plan to fundraise for Le Bonheur and lift the spirits of patients, and Gordon had to figure out how to keep her students involved while following appropriate public health guidelines.
Since filming inside the hospital was not an option due to immunocompromised patients, Musicians for Le Bonheur produced a three-hour-long documentary that showcased performances from more than 12 musicians from the area representing a variety of genres. The performance, “Le Bonheroo: A Socially Distant Concert for the Patients and Families of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital,” aired on the hospital's closed-circuit TV station and was released for purchase on Amazon Prime.
“We just had to put something together in 2020,” Jaggers said in a press release from that year prior to the premier of the new documentary film. “It made a lot of people involved with the project sad to know we couldn’t visit the hospital and perform for the kids. This is the next best thing that we can do.”
While filming the documentary that summer, Jaggers showed student interns how to work with professional studio recording and sound equipment, which ultimately earned them the title of “audio engineers” in the film’s ending credits.
Gordon said this type of training and professional mentorship will truly propel her students forward because limited budgets and constantly-evolving technology make it difficult to provide the newest digital media tools to high school classrooms each year.
One unique aspect of this partnership is students who work as interns with Jaggers can take their advanced digital media skills and share them with peers back in the classroom. This creates an engaging, collaborative environment and gives students the opportunity to focus on their individual interests in filmography, photography, graphic design or other related areas.
Beyond the technical skills Gordon’s students are acquiring through this partnership with NEC, working in a variety of settings with different people is a game-changer for developing strong soft skills. From being in the recording studio with a rock band to filming a musician’s special acoustic performance in a patient’s room, students learn how to interact appropriately given their surroundings and how to troubleshoot and react to technical problems as they arise.
“We cannot control a camera malfunctioning during the middle of a performance or a [memory] card getting full during an interview, but we can adapt and learn how to fix these issues while remaining calm and collected,” Gordon said.
Tanner Smart, a graduate of the digital media program, said the internship with Jaggers helped him realize he wanted a career in digital media. Smart began interning with Jaggers during the 2019 production of “Musicians for Le Bonheur,” and he continues to work with Jaggers on projects while studying digital media at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
“In high school, I participated in music and theater, so I got interested in digital media as another creative outlet,” Smart said. “My first interest in the digital media program was photography. When I started helping with the Le Bonheur projects with [Jaggers and Gordon], I knew that this is where I could see myself building a career. I got really interested in filmography and still find opportunities to learn more in this area.”
Although Smart stays busy between school and other projects, he still takes time to visit his former teacher and her new students at DCCTCW. Now that he has a few years of experience under his belt, Smart said he enjoys sharing his new skills with aspiring digital media students.
After almost three years contributing to the Le Bonheur charity projects, Cassidy Carson, a senior in Gordon’s digital media program, said peer-to-peer learning is beneficial, especially when it comes to professional photography — a skill she hopes to incorporate as a part of her career aspirations in cosmetology.
“When we have older students come back to visit and show us how to use new equipment or software, it’s always easier because I feel like they know how to explain it on our level,” Carson said. “It’s really cool to see that you can take this new information into the future and put it to good use. This entire experience has allowed me to become more skilled in photography. I hope to open my own salon one day, so having strong digital media skills — particularly photography — will be very important to my business.”
As for now, Gordon and Jaggers plan to continue connecting students with local opportunities to learn and gain more digital media experience in real-world settings. NEC’s sponsorship of the DCCTCW digital media program is helping CTE students grow personally and professionally and makes a positive impact on their career trajectory as they prepare for life beyond high school.