Helena Magazine

Shining a light on the good things: Bryan Pope works to teach and share the stories of Shelby County Schools

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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Written by Donald Mottern

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Helena resident Bryan Pope’s current occupation as digital media specialist for all of Shelby County Schools was not one that he set out with an intention to obtain.

Although he has filled the role for several years now and worked to build the position, the department and involvement with the school system from nearly the ground up, that journey truly began as a simple change in teaching assignments.

Prior to filling his current role, Pope firmly worked to establish his career as an educator for more than a decade. Over the course of that time, Pope served as a history teacher in Jefferson County but an opportunity eventually presented itself for him to make a change and tackle a new subject.

“I got a chance while I was teaching at Oak Grove High School to change over to teaching marketing,” Pope said. “With that, I was offered the chance to teach and help students credential in either Adobe or Microsoft.”

When Pope took on the assignment, he did so with an active and inspired involvement but little actual experience. At the time, Pope’s exposure to software such as Adobe was limited to what he had been introduced to by a youth pastor he knew who worked as a graphic designer.

Nevertheless, Pope applied himself and began building up a repertoire of experience and knowledge toward a number of applications he used to educate his students.

“I started learning to be able to teach it and started off in programs like illustrator and photoshop and then eventually got into video with my students and that is where it really took off and started getting attention as a program for creating,” Pope said.

After a time, he would then relocate to Shelby County Schools, a move which would only solidify his transition to this new focus. Pope would take a position with Calera High School, again in the role of a marketing teacher, and in the process of that transition would be introduced to Cindy Warner, public relations and community education supervisor for Shelby County Schools.

Before even getting a chance to develop a reputation from within to the classroom, Pope was put into contact with Warner through a fellow colleague in Jefferson County that recommended him to help the district in the creation of a series of videos.

“I did the Shelby Cares videos back then, which was five to six years ago now,” Pope said. “That was my first introduction to Shelby County but it also got me a lot of attention right off of the bat before I even got in the classroom.”

Once reaching the classroom and after the successful production of the collection of Shelby Cares videos, Pope’s class would focus heavily on the aspects of video production. That program in Calera was allowed to move forward at an exponential rate due to the school’s relationship and cooperation with Lhoist, a minerals and lime producing company with strong ties and presence in Calera and the surrounding area.

“Their headquarters is right there in Calera and it had been recommended that I reach out to them if we needed some money for the program,” Pope said. “Over that year and through multiple donations, they gave us about $30,000 to use in the purchasing of camera equipment, computers and all kinds of stuff. Plus, Shelby County Schools career tech provided us the first Mac lab ever in Shelby County.”

Throughout Bryan’s year working at Calera High School, his marketing class took it upon themselves to produce a large number of what he refers to as “hype” videos for a variety of the school’s programs on top of the general curriculum covered by the class.

“It was still a marketing class but we used it to market the theatre performances, the football teams, cheer squads, volleyball teams and anything and everything that we wanted we did hype and promotional style videos,” he said.

After one year in Calera, Bryan would then make another career pivot to Helena High School where he would take a position as an administrative assistant. However, he would only remain in that new role for a little over two months before redirecting one last time toward the position of digital media specialist.

“Shelby County Schools had in mind what they wanted this sort of role to be and I think they went on to tailor it to me a bit once I came in,” Pope said.

The documented responsibilities for the role of digital media specialist for Shelby County Schools lists the position’s goals of supporting school district through the creation and development of digital media and marketing campaigns that consist of video and graphic creation, photography and the creation of other multimedia projects like blogs and podcasts. All of these elements are subsequently meant to support the district’s online presence across its presence across multiple online media platforms.

“It has definitely grown and expanded over that time,” Pope said. “I’ve got a co-worker now in Cole Pevey and he and I both make up the digital media department. I would say that our overall purpose is relatively district wide. We do not try and cover every single school event, but definitely there are certain events that may garner attention more so than others. Definitely, if it is a system wide event, we do our best to cover it.”

Examples of those such events are SCS’ Showcase of Schools, livestreams of graduation ceremonies and other events that might be expected to have bigger implications for the district as a whole.

In the time since taking the role as one of the individuals chiefly responsible for telling the plethora of stories taking place around and within Shelby County Schools, the program has also seen a steady pace of growth that has expanded not only its capabilities but its responsibilities.

“Depending on what we are doing that day, we may be traveling to different schools—capturing interviews, filming a variety of b-roll and other things,” Pope said. “Other times we are in the office editing, having meetings and discussing upcoming projects. We started off with just me­ using my own equipment, and then a mix of other equipment we gained from the district. Then we were just doing simple things—teacher of the year videos certainly took up a lot—but now we are able to do the one-on-one with Dr. Brooks that is sort of like a video podcast. We’ve now got a new studio space where we are hopefully going to be able to do even more of those­­­—where Dr. Brooks gets to sit down with students and staff to share their stories, which does a great job at showcasing his personality and the relationships he builds.”

In an example of one of the many instances of school involvement, Pope talked about letting Montevallo High School borrow a gimbal and how he and Pevey traveled to the high school to not only deliver the equipment but educate students on how to use a gimbal.

“We also work with high and middle school programs where we help the teachers that are teaching similar type things to what Cole and I taught reach their students,” Pope said. “We go in and sometimes we will shoot videos with high school or middle school programs. We just had one scheduled at the end of February with Helena Middle School where I am helping them shoot a spring hype video.”

At its current stage and capabilities, SCS’ digital media office has connections to at least one program in every zone, usually at each of the high schools. However, that presence is undergoing an expansion with other media related programs stationed in a number of the district’s middle schools including Chelsea Middle School and Helena Middle School. Elvin Hill Elementary School also features a related program.

In all such programs, Pope works alongside Pevey to sit with teachers so that they can educate them on matters related to the technologies in question, all toward the mission of passing that education down to the students.

“Some of them do podcasts, some do hype videos for the school programs, some of them do news related stuff,” Pope said. “I worked with Cassie Screws at Helena High School when I was there as an administrative assistant in a process to upgrade Husky TV, which is the schools weekly news-type program.”

In achieving this mission of educating the district’s students, Pope has found that one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling aspects of his position is simply working with the people within the schools and contributing to daily problem solving.

“For example, one day we walked into Montevallo High School and we were teaching one thing before they said that they were having problems with one of their lights—they have some new Amaran lights that they are using,” Pope said. “They told us that one of their lights were blinking and that they weren’t sure why. In just troubleshooting that issue, it ended up that they were using the wrong power cord for their bigger light. Just figuring that kind of stuff out is the type of thing I enjoy doing.”

In addition to the numerous problem-solving opportunities, Pope stipulates that above everything else, the aspect of his position he finds most rewarding is the ability to tell the stories of the people within the district. Whether it be from the perspective of a student, teacher, administrator or other staff member, the growth of the department has allowed the more effective and proficient telling of stories for the rest of the community to experience.

“It’s just getting to know people that otherwise I would never meet,” Pope said. “It is probably my top favorite thing about it all. I really enjoy getting to know the staff and hearing their stories. (What we do is) hugely instrumental in school spirit,” Pope said. “It really just makes a huge impact in how students feel about their school and I love the idea that we get to shine a light on the good things.”