By Audrey Richardson
Special To The Standard
READING — Reading schoolchildren are using the devastation of Irene to capture the heart of their community on film.
Since November, Reading Elementary School’s fifth and sixth grade classroom have been garnering information and researching documentary styles for their own documentary on Irene due out later this winter. Under the direction of librarian and technology teacher Nikki Oney and grade level teacher Patti Collins, the students have set out to prove that Irene not only brought destruction, but also brought a community together.
“Our thesis is really how Irene helped our community to become closer and stronger,” said Oney.
The students started the process by collecting letters from community members, asking people to reflect on their experience.
“We asked them to write it as if it was a love letter, “ said Oney. Parents wrote many of the letters that the students received, but some came from community members outside the school. The students plan to pull quotes from the letters to read during the documentary. Oney showed her students a Ken Burns documentary on the civil war so that they could see how he juxtaposed voice and photography. “We are going for the ‘Ken Burns’ effect. In order to create a good documentary you have to know one,” said Oney about the learning process of making a documentary.
In order for the students to understand what it means to work with film and make a documentary, Oney invited various speakers in to help guide her students. Local documentarian Deborah Scranton came and used Skype to interview VPR weatherman Michael Breen.
“It was good for (the students) to gain that actual knowledge and be exposed to people who are really into that art form,” explained Oney.
The students are currently in the script writing stage and once that stage is complete they plan to move their text to a storyboard. The storyboard will allow them to understand what their ideas will look like on film. “It sounds complex, but their vision is really about community coming to together to help each other and it’s a long process,” said Oney. For the most part, Oney reports that her students are very involved in the process of the project and that interest levels are high. “They are not complaining and doing the typical 6th grade thing. They have lived through it so it is important to them,” said Oney.
For Oney, this project was not only about catharsis, but also about using technology to covey emotion. “It is a sophisticated project, and it allows students to delve into their emotional memory,” said Reading Principal Dr. Lou Lafasciano. Reading is on the cutting edge when it comes to using technology in the classroom. Oney has organized an online class for her students in January that will take place at The Cleveland Museum. Students will interact with teachers from the museum while they learn about Egypt and Egyptian culture.
As for their documentary, Oney hopes that it will wrap up in March. Although she is pleased with the outcome thus far, she says that the project has taken longer than she expected and feels that the students will soon be ready to move on.
This article first appeared in the December 15th edition of the Vermont Standard.