Sept. 11 video gives the teen's-eye view

Project: River Hill High School students tackle themes of tolerance and compassion.

January 23, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's a high school classroom right out of a movie. Bored students stare out a window or doze off while their teacher drones at them from her desk. But the Hollywood stereotypes end when a girl charges into the room with the news that two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York.

The scene is from a video. This month, River Hill High School students are taping a public service video about teen reactions to Sept. 11. English teacher Heather Hooper is the project's faculty sponsor.

"It's in response to all the good, sensitive and far-reaching thoughts my students expressed after 9-11," Hooper said.

The idea for the video began as a homework assignment. Hooper asked her English classes to write freely on the topic of the terrorist attacks.

"Unlike many adults, they were concerned about how it would affect Islamic Americans. I realized the students had important messages for the adult world about compassion and living with each other in our own country after the attacks," Hooper said.

She discussed these reactions with the staff of the school's literary magazine, Impressions, which she advises. Not only did they agree that adults were being extreme in their responses to the attacks, they wanted to do something about it.

Andie Craft, 15, is a production assistant for the video. "It completely boggled my mind why people were saying, `Let's go bomb everyone,'" she said. "I wanted to be involved and get my opinion out there."

Sophomore Karianna Barr and fellow students said the news media ignored teen reactions to the crisis. "After it happened, you saw what the adult reaction was," Karianna said. "I wanted to show people that it did affect us a lot. It was hard even for us high-schoolers to cope with it."

The story follows a teen-ager through the morning of Sept. 11. Students working on the project, most of whom are on the staff of Impressions, wanted their audience to see things through the main character's eyes. They plan to use camera angles to show his point of view throughout most of the video, leading to a surprise ending.

"Our video is being planned to relate a complex theme about putting yourself in someone else's shoes, without preaching or even much dialogue," Hooper said.

The video is expected to be six to seven minutes long.

Junior James English is a driving force behind the project. When students put their ideas together, he composed the storyboards for the video. The rough sketches are a visual map of the scenes that need to be taped: a teen driving to school, kids complaining about their parents, classmates reacting to news of the attacks. Not until the end of the video is the main character's identity revealed.

"I hope people realize that you can't judge people," James said.In the days after Sept. 11, he said, students were more sensitive to Arab-American kids in class than adults were to Arab-Americans in the nation.

"This [video] is an expression of the kindness we should be showing, the sadness of the tragedy," he said.

River Hill has extensive video facilities, which are used by its TV production class. Although that class is not working on the 9-11 video, TV teacher Michael Ahr and some of his students will do the editing. This spring, they plan to broadcast the completed video through the school's video distribution system. That way, it will be shown in every classroom. Hooper and her students also hope to air the project on public access television.

Principal Scott Pfeifer is enthusiastic about the project, which he said will provide students with an opportunity to deal with their feelings about Sept. 11. Though the idea for the video was student-generated, Pfeifer credits Hooper with making it happen.

"I have this really neat teacher who's connected to the kids," he said. "It wouldn't happen without that."

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