The scoop at Yarmouth: Students step up to real-world challenge

When a company like Friendly’s struggles to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, desperate times often call for desperate measures.

Could students at Yarmouth High School help?

Friendly Ice Cream Corp., based in Wilbraham, Mass., is a 77-year-old company known for its ice cream and hamburgers. When the economic downturn, coupled with higher costs and high rents, drove it into bankruptcy, company leaders realized the need for a new model, a new business plan and a new image.

The VIA Agency is a hip advertising and marketing firm located in Portland.  Already engaged in a fresh ad campaign for Friendly’s, the group’s creative director decided to reach out to a resource that had sparked great ideas in the past.

“While on a field trip with my students to tour VIA, Teddy Stoecklein asked if I thought my students would like to help out with a real creative challenge,” recalled Melissa Noack, an Art and Graphics Design teacher at Yarmouth High School. “I embraced the opportunity.”

Throughout her years as an educator, Noack’s students have gained real-world creative experience from a variety of authentic projects ranging from t-shirt designs to logo treatments to town flags to art installations.

But this was the first opportunity for her students to work with a blue-chip agency such as VIA.

“What has always intrigued me about VIA is its extensive use of technology in the creative process,” Noack said. “This helped me set an example to my students about networking, fostering relationships and staying connected. I believe technology drives collaboration.”

For the Friendly’s project, a team of eight students was asked to develop a 15-second commercial “slice” that centered upon a “high five” theme. The assignment involved concept development, script writing and production.  Students were required to work in pairs, to use “higher level creative problem-solving skills,” Noack said, and to leverage the technology tools available to them.

Driving that toolkit was the MacBook computer each student receives as part of the statewide Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). Students turned to applications like iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, PhotoShop and Bamboo Tablets.

“It was huge that these students could take their computers home,” explained Alice Barr, Instructional Technology Coordinator at Yarmouth High, noting the 24/7 MacBook access the initiative provided. “It would have been difficult to accomplish this type of project limited to lab scheduling.

“The nature of our school is to be collaborative,” Barr added. “A lot of what students learn, they learn from each other. And what they learn, they run with.”

The Yarmouth team completed its creative treatments back in January. The students pitched their work to a group of VIA creative and communications professionals through “live” and then iMovie presentations.

The agency believed the students “acting out” their message was as critical to selling their pitch as the pitch itself. But the Yarmouth team took no chances. The students additionally produced video because they believed there were more creative options available to them.

“They pulled it off,” beamed Noack. “The students were treated with great respect, treated as creative ‘equals,’ and they received great feedback on all their concepts.”

Although the team’s creative content did not make the cut for the final commercial production, VIA is modeling the collaboration and challenge-based processes the Yarmouth students implemented.

That spelled victory, according to Noack.

“The big takeaway here was the engagement of the students in a real-world activity,” she said. “This project had a huge impact on student learning. They realized that creative and innovative thinkers are highly sought in any field of study.”

Barr also circled back to the goals of MLTI, and the “real and relevant” learning skills such as collaboration, creativity and innovation that directly transfer to the workforce of the 21st century.

“What I loved about this project is that the students were in charge of their own learning,” she said. “It fit into a real-world experience that required them to stretch their learning, to take their creativity as far as they wanted it to go.”

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