C-SPAN visits Pioneer, gives students awards for film competition

The student winners proudly hold their plaques from C-SPAN on April 30. Teacher Tracy Van Dusen, C-SPAN producer Debbie Lam, Comcast community affairs manager Maria Holmes and Pioneer Principal Michael White congratulate the students on their work.

By Tara Cavanaugh

Six Pioneer High School students jumpstarted their future careers in documentary filmmaking this week. The junior AP government students were honored with awards from C-SPAN after submitting mini-documentaries to its 2012 StudentCam competition.

C-SPAN producer Debbie Lam and Maria Holmes from Comcast visited Pioneer on Monday to give Ruby Emberling, Maria Newton, Delaney Wright, Tamar Hofer, Andrew Siddal and Jassadi Moore plaques for receiving an Honorable Mention in the competition. They will also receive $250 for placing among the top 75 of the 1,203 entries. 

The national competition encourages middle and high school students to make their own short films about public policy issues. This year’s topic was “The Constitution and You.” Students picked a provision of the constitution or an amendment and documented its effect on their lives.

AP government teacher Tracy Van Dusen first introduced the project to her students after completing a summer fellowship with C-SPAN in 2009. Her students have won prizes in the StudentCam competition every year since then.

Van Dusen offers the StudentCam project as an option for students, but it’s become a selling point for her AP government class. “Some kids actually take AP government to get involved in this project,” she said.

The school provided a few Flip video cameras and some students used their own equipment or even their phones. For many, the competition was their introduction to filmmaking.

“It’s such a unique experience that they get to say they’ve done in high school,” Van Dusen said.

Tamar, Jassidy and Andrew’s video, “First Amendment Rights for Students,” explored students’ free speech rights in a school setting. “The main thing we learned was the really fine and gray line of what is your rights in school versus out of school,” Andrew said.

Their video includes interviews with Principal Michael White and Paul Tinkerhess of the infamous Tinkerhess vs. Des Moines Supreme Court case. Tinkerhess and other high school students were suspended in 1965 for showing opposition to the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands in school. The Supreme Court supported their right to free speech in 1969.

Ruby, Maria and Delaney’s video, “Students’ First Amendment Rights,” looked at the freedoms and limitations put on student newspapers at Pioneer and at other schools as illustrated through court cases.

Both Holmes and Lamb applauded the students’ work.

“I really think some of the projects that you’ve done exemplify some of the best work that we’ve seen and not only that, gave the chance for you to really express what you really think,” said Holmes, a community affairs manager for Comcast, which supports C-SPAN and the annual competition. “I want to encourage you to find your voice, use your voice, to know that you can make a difference.”

“We wanted to give students voices–students who have an opinion and care about what matters,” Lamb said.

Lamb explained that C-SPAN is supported by Comcast and other cable providers as a public service. “We don’t have any commercials. We don’t take any position from an editorial standpoint,” she said. “It’s important for us to show a variety of points of view.”

Van Dusen, who was also a 2010 U.S. Department of Education Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, has established a strong relationship with C-SPAN. She will do a senior fellowship with C-SPAN later this year, and she also got C-SPAN founder, chair and CEO Brian Lamb to do an interview with her government students over Skype. Lamb has earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Humanities Medal.

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