In the spotlight

Navigator students craft their own music videos from beginning to end.

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The Navigator program offered by Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools encourages the creativity and talents of special education students by having them produce, direct, and star in their own music videos.

It was a warm and sunny day at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School when The Times stopped by the Performing Arts Center to see the artists in action. At first, the students were doing takes for their individual music video projects on the stage, working with drama teacher Brooke Hardman Ditchfield and education director for Circuit Arts, Jenna Robichau, on choreography and composition. But as the work inside wrapped up, students headed out back to work with some fun props.

Student Kyra Wildanger was one of the first to try out her prop set for her accompanying music video to “Colder Weather” by the Zac Brown Band. Robichau (she runs the music video program) brought her truck around to the side parking lot to be incorporated into Wildanger’s and others’ music videos. Kyra hopped right in the truck bed, grabbed a guitar, and began to jam along to the original track. Her country-cool look was completed by her red flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. Kyra said her favorite thing about her music video was singing in the truck.

Another student, Alyssa Sylvia, filmed a music video to the song “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigues. She said she enjoyed working with props, including a car that she sat on the hood of to film her video. Alyssa said she enjoys acting and singing, and one of her goals for next year is to play a lead role in one of the school theater productions. “I want to be one of the main characters, because I really like singing and dancing,” Alyssa said, adding that one of her favorite numbers that she likes to sing is “Shadowland” from the Broadway musical “The Lion King.”

Jhonatha De Oliviera performed a music video to “Fila,” a song he sings entirely in Portuguese. Last year, he performed and recorded a music video for “Hotel California” by the Eagles. In the background of the “Fila” video, the Navigators use a green screen to create a starting scene, then Jhonatha steps through a magic portal and into a brand-new set of virtual digs. “He walks through and all of a sudden he’s in a new suit. He jams out with his new clothes on and some bright Hollywood lights in the background,” Robichau said. “He plans on doing some standup for his next video performance.”

When asked how he feels about being the star in his own music video that he dreamed up on his own, he said he feels like a famous Hollywood star whenever he puts on the sunglasses and dons his virtual gear. 

Winnie Welles, who graduated from the program last year, was more than happy to help out with the students’ videos and make sure the process went smoothly. “Winnie is really good at directing,” Robichau said. The whole time, she was telling performers when to cut, when to roll film, and keeping the whole operation buttoned up tight.

Navigator teacher Keren Albiston said it’s exciting for her to see her students having fun together, working on projects that are truly their own, and creating something that they can look back on fondly for years to come. “These kids are amazingly creative and talented — they do amazing things. We are so grateful to have other incredible educators and people who come into their lives who have more expertise in these places than we do,” Albiston said. 

Robichau said she has been assisting with the Navigator music video program for almost four years at this point. “I remember my first day, Jhonatha did not talk to anybody. He kept his head down, he was so quiet,” Robichau said. “Kyra just wanted to sit on the couch and hang out. Now, whenever we come in, they’re like, ‘Ms. Brooke, Jenna, we have a new song, I have this new idea.’” Robichau said seeing their confidence grow over the past few years has been enjoyable and inspiring. “Seeing how music and dance and song can just bring people together and totally change their perspective. That’s my favorite part — watching them grow. Every day they come in with new songs, new voices, and are ready to give it their all.”

Specifically this year, Robichau explained, the students have taken on a big responsibility. They create their music videos from scratch, picking a song, drawing out a storyboard, picking costumes and props, and picking out what they want to be doing on set. “They even get a chance to work the camera, so it’s really a comprehensive look at the film production process,” Robichau said. 

She explained that last year, she did most of the filming, but this year every role has been filled by the students. They get a chance to use cameras, handle stage directions, work with sound production, and learn the ins and outs of the world of digital production. One of the Navigator students, Connor McGrath, wrote an original song that he performs alongside Ditchfield. Connor wrote all the lyrics for his video, which includes some live action of him singing, along with a stop-motion animation segment that he made himself. “So it’s original words, original music, and original stop-motion, all done by Connor,” Robichau explained.

“When I first started teaching here, this was the class that intimidated me the most, because I didn’t have any experience. Now, it has become not only my favorite class, but the class I am most proud of,” Ditchfield said.