By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff
PITTSFIELD — “Killer” bees, zebra mussels and cane toads from outer space will soon be invading your local television screens.
Since January, a group of local high school students has been researching, writing, designing and filming a new television show called “SciTV” for Pittsfield Community Television, based on work they’ve been doing in an afterschool science program based at Pittsfield High School. The program is funded through a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, which sponsors several after-school enrichment programs in the Pittsfield public school district.
The first segment on invasive species is set to screen later in June. Another segment on space is in the works.
Supervising the science
Kara Curtin, a junior at St. Joseph Central High School, films a segment for SciTV. Program are science educator Lisa Provencher of Dr. Augie’s Art & Nature Programs and Tim Laporte, owner of Recompute repair store in Pittsfield.
“I joined because I really like science and I thought it would be interesting to learn new things. So far, it’s been pretty cool,” said Matt Brites, a PHS junior.
The group of students includes seven full-time members and one part-time member from PHS, Lenox Memorial Middle and High School and St. Joseph Central High School. They meet Mondays and Wednesdays for three hours a week discussing and learning about a range of topics.
“We started learning about animals, but then I got really into plants,” said Cally Vranas, also a junior at PHS.
The group has learned about local and international invasive species, like zebra mussels and cane toads respectively. They’ve gone on field trips to learn and see what local invasive plant species are like, including garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed and oriental bittersweet.
Invasive species are exotic flora and fauna living in native habitats. They can become harmful to local ecosystems by overpopulating and pushing out native species.
While walking the tree line of the PHS football field, Brites said, “We found one invasive vine strangling another invasive vine.”
The students have worked in several outdoor areas, the PHS chemistry and biology rooms, and the Berkshire Museum. They have interviewed local experts, most recently Rene Wendell of The Trustees of Reservations.
In addition, with the support of parents, the students have taken field trips to the AniMagic Museum of Animation, Special Effects and Art in Lee and Pittsfield Community Television’s studio to learn about filming, so students could turn their studies into a broadcast production to be shared with others.
Provencher said the student science group is particularly impressive because some of its members have visual or hearing impairments, but it has not stopped them from learning the ropes and growing their talents both on and offscreen.
One interview-shy student, who goes by the nickname “Mark Darwin,” is a self-described “behind-the-scenes guy,” who also wrote many portions of the SciTV script.
Brites and PHS freshman Ian Phair worked on illustrations for backdrops for the show and Brites also designed “alien” cane toad puppets for a humorous segment.
“It’s been a good social opportunity,” said Kara Curtin, a 10th-grader at St. Joe.
To learn more about SciTV and the making of episodes, visit https://draugies.wordpress.com/kid-programs.