Francisco Suarez from SUNY Oswego’s communication studies faculty partnered with local public TV station WCNY to successfully stage the first year of the Visual Storytelling Summer Camp for middle-school children. 

The free camp for students in the Syracuse City School District ran from June 27 to July 26.

“We had applications through our website where you fill out a form, and part of the form that was very important was that you need to write an essay about why you want to be part of the camp,” said Suarez. “We wanted to guarantee that whoever came to the camp was somebody who would really take advantage of the opportunity.”

The camp also received a lot of help from WCNY, as they offered up their facilities and tools for the students to use in order to create their short film. 

“WCNY is a PBS station here in Central New York and they have been an amazing partner to make this happen," Suarez said. "They offered access to their facilities in downtown Syracuse, so we used the TV studio in WCNY but also they have this really cool technological classroom that allowed us to teach there during the camp. They are really an amazing partner in the process and we wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

During the four weeks at the camp, students learned visual storytelling, camera movements, camera shots, editing, makeup, set design and more through lectures, tests and games. SUNY Oswego students Angel Hall and Dylan Suttles helped make the camp successful. 

My role in the camp was as an assistant camp coordinator," Hall said. "My job included supervising the children, planning games for them to play, meal planning, and helping them with their story and movie.” 

Just like the younger participants, Hall and Suttles also learned a lot through participating in the summer camp. 

“Doing the Visual Storytelling Summer Camp taught me a lot about leading and education. Helping the kids to create their own work, put in the a role of a guide and a teacher to them, isn't something I have much experience in,” Suttles said. “So in addition to learning about the craft through the immersion in visual storytelling and Professor Suarez's lessons, the kids were teaching me how to teach them.”

Part of Suttler’s role at the camp was to capture photos as well as film and produce the behind the scenes video of the campers going through the process of creating their short film. 

Hall also felt a personal connection to the program and wanted to help the students who enrolled take advantage of the opportunity.

I wanted to be involved in the camp because I saw it would be a wonderful opportunity for children in Central New York," Hall said. "I grew up in the CNY area and knew there was a lack of programs for kids with interests other than sports or outdoor activities in the summertime. When I saw that Professor Suarez was doing this camp, I wanted to be involved so I could help give the children opportunities I never had but wanted when I was their age.”

In the end, the students attending the summer camp produced a short film called "Mob of the Undead," where each camper, ages 10 to 14 wrote, produced and edited the piece. 

“They went for a zombie story –- they were excited about zombies," Suarez said. "They learned incredibly fast –- faster than I was expecting –- the camera movements, camera shots, visual storytelling, grammar, video editing, lining, makeup and even set design. So really by week two they were very much capable to not only know the camera shots and camera movements but to really use it in the way that they should be using it.”

-- Written by Lila Boudissa of the Class of 2023