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Herkimer BOCES students help
spread message on value of adult education

Sept. 1, 2015

Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES visual communications media arts students helped this past school year with sharing the powerful story of a local man who turned his life around by gaining a National External Diploma through the Herkimer BOCES adult education program.

 Through a partnership with the Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Herkimer BOCES produced a video interview with local resident Hermes Parga to show an example of how adult education literacy programs can help people achieve their goals.

Parga started the National External Diploma program while in Herkimer County jail. After he was out of jail, he completed rehab and the BOCES program on the same day.

“I graduated with the class,” Parga said, in the video. “From there, my whole life changed.”

Herkimer BOCES offers two options for local adults to obtain a high school diploma: the National External Diploma or the high school equivalency test called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion or TASC. For information about Herkimer BOCES adult literacy programs, click here.

 ‘I had no hope’

Parga, originally from Bronx, explained in the video his past growing up in a bad neighborhood filled with gangs and drugs. His involvement with gangs and drug use caused him to not finish high school, and the state eventually took custody of him.

He tried to obtain his General Education Development diploma while in a group home, but fell back into drugs and other issues. Eventually, his behavior led him to prison. He attempted to gain a GED diploma again, but failed by two points.

Once out of prison, he created goals to do something with his life, but wound up in an unhealthy relationship, back on drugs and then locked up in Herkimer County jail.

“I was at a place where I had no hope,” he said. “I was at the bottom of my life with just nothing else to do; going nowhere.”

It was also about this time when he found out he had a young daughter, and that became his motivation.

‘The turnaround’

Herkimer BOCES adult education teacher Jessica Murphy-Armstrong, who also conducted the video interview with Parga, was his teacher in Herkimer County jail. She told him about the National External Diploma program and helped him work toward his goal.

After completing rehab and graduating, Parga obtained custody of his daughter, completed an outpatient program and went to Mohawk Valley Community College for human services. Facing the demands of being a single parent, he later had to withdraw from MVCC, but now that his daughter is in school, he is looking forward to going back to college and is writing a book about his life.

Parga thanked Herkimer BOCES, the Rescue Mission of Utica and the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area.

“You guys really helped me organize my life and put my goals in order and perspective,” he said.

Having taught Parga while he was incarcerated, Murphy-Armstrong was proud to interview him about how he has improved his life.

“To see the turnaround in his life to where he can be successful and achieve what he wants, it’s self-motivating for me,” she said.

‘A good experience’

The goal of the video interview is to show how important adult education is for giving people reading skills, Murphy-Armstrong said.

The production of the video itself was conducted by Herkimer BOCES high-school students in the visual communications media arts program, and the filming was done in the television studio at Herkimer BOCES.

Students Mark Loiacono, of Owen D. Young; Brandon Johnson, of Herkimer, and Steven Ciulla, of Little Falls, operated the cameras. Student Jake Schaffer, of West Canada Valley, did the video editing.

“It’s a good experience to know for future opportunities if it comes up again, you can say you’ve already done it,” Loiacono said.

The students set up the studio for a talk show with a table, plant and chairs. They also set up the microphones, made sure the audio was at the appropriate levels and made sure the lighting was direct with no shadows. One of the three cameras was aimed at Pargas, one was fixed on Murphy-Armstrong and one filmed both of them.

Making the video utilized many of the skills the students learned during their two-year program, Loiacono said.

“You know all the experience from two years, you can put it to good use,” he said.

‘To help people’

For the editing phase, Schaffer first lined up the timing of the video from all three cameras in the Adobe Premiere program. The next step is to decide which angle to start with and get rid of the other two for that section of the video, he said.

Each camera also has its own microphone, so you select the best audio for each portion of the interview and make sure it lines up. You also have to avoid quick jumps between camera angles, he said.

The most important thing is whether you can hear or see what is being said or done, Schaffer said.

“It takes a lot of patience,” he said.

No matter how great the raw video is, it won’t turn out as a good video without good editing, Schaffer said.

“Out of the whole process of video producing, for me, I like editing the best,” he said. “It’s just kind of nice to control what the final product looks like.”

It was great to be able to apply skills learned through the Herkimer BOCES class to a positive project, Schaffer said.

“It feels good knowing that the stuff I’ve been learning over the two years, that I can actually use it to help people,” he said.

Loiacono agreed.

“It’s great that people who don’t know about the adult education programs can learn about it,” he said.

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