In its first appearance, Monroe video club wins big at Digital Media Festival, “The Digies.”

NOTE: Due to a server change, the pictures are missing. See Life as a D & C blogger. The lost photos. And Common Wealth.

In the western New York high school media world making The Digies is a big deal.

The James Monroe High School Video Club took it took two steps further at the 7th Annual Digital Media Festival, The Digies. On Thursday night at SUNY Geneseo, the club was awarded 2d and 3d places in the Video category, the most competitive 10-12 grades entry group. The two videos, To Skip or not to Skip and Living with Fear, were accepted from an overall field of more than 250 entries. Quite an accomplishment for a team making its first appearance in the competition that draws submissions from the entire Genesee Valley.

The Video Club was founded two years ago by ESOL teacher, Liza Steffen. She teaches Computer Applications and Digital Media classes to ESOL students. Usually Second Language Learners do not have time in their schedules to study technology or media; instead, they take ESOL (English as a Second Language) classes.

In response, Monroe created a combination ESOL /Media/Technology class with a special curriculum integrating language instruction and technology training. ELL students only chance to gain these important skills is through daily use of technology and digital media in ESOL classes. Much of the necessary equipment was made possible by teachers’ tireless pursuit of outside grants.

The Video Club was a natural offshoot of the program, and quickly gained members throughout the school. Club members have access to a wide array of resources whose mastery develops technical expertise: ipads, lights, green screens, microphones, and video cameras. In addition, students learn storyboarding, script writing, music production, editing, acting and directing. The group takes full advantage, sometimes working 3-4 hours a day, and in the process gain valuable college and career skills.

actors Dominic Houston and Fraime Ubaldo

Just as important, the club provides a platform for authentic expression. The club has full control over content and treatment; Liza’s role is strictly advisory. As director Angel Lopez says the goal is to raise awareness about issues that affect city kids on a daily basis; “People are used to reading about problems. We want people to actually see them.”

To Skip or not to Skip explores the artful dodging of cutting class. The video shows the almost hourly push and pull students face when deciding whether to make or break class.


filming Fear

Living with Fear is the first of a two part series on bullying. The video vividly dramatizes how small frictions can escalate into psychologically and physically dangerous situations. I was at Monroe when Fear the Sequel—which offers potential solutions to issues raised in Part 1—was being made. I was impressed how the video team turned Principal Armando Ramirez’s office into a mini-film set where a fictional mediation and punishment scene was deftly performed.

Liza worries that next year Monroe might not be offering combined language/technology classes because of district curriculum changes. After watching the Monroe Video Club in action—most of whom got their start in combined classes–I can only hope her worries are unfounded.

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