We are an alternative education high school that serves approximately 100 students who are working towards their high school diploma. As with most students in alternative education, our students face tremendous obstacles that leave them burnt out and disconnected from those around them. The self-expressive nature of our Digital Storytelling class gives our students a voice, which can be the empowering breakthrough that each of them needs.
A grant was awarded in November of 2016 that allowed two groups of 6 students to attend a local community college to learn from Kriste York, who served as the workshop facilitator. Kriste taught them how to piece together different images from their life to create a visual story. Each group collaborated on everything, from story ideas to critiquing the final short films. The goal of the project was to hold a film festival to showcase the work of the students in order to raise the necessary funds to offer the class during the next academic year. We invited the local community to come to the festival and watch the films that our students had created; allowing them to get to know our students and connect with them. The film Festival made our class self-sustainable; as each group of students exhibited their stories the donations would fund the next group of story tellers.
It was magical, as I watched them turn events of their lives into works of art.
The film festival was a huge success! Not only did it help to empower and inspire our students; it helped build connections within the community as well. This platform turned out to be incredibly valuable to our students because it was something that they could control. It was completely up to them how they wanted to present their stories and it allowed them to take control of their education. Alternative education high school students thrive when they believe that they are in a safe environment and giving them control is one way to do that.
One student in particular created a piece about her anxiety, highlighting a recent panic attack that she had overcome. She has struggled with anxiety for a very long time and it is one of the reasons she needed to keep changing schools and eventually ended up at College Hill. Her short film was a complete catharsis as she was able to describe the emotions and physical response to something that is otherwise out of her control. Her film also helped to connect her to other students who battle with anxiety and show them that they are not alone.
One of our students chose to share their story about witnessing an epileptic attack for the first time while another student chose to share the reasons behind the ever changing colors of her hair. Some of our students included selfies and other pictures of their lives in their films. One of our students, who chose to write about his experience with brain cancer, included actual scans of his brain in his film. Each story detailed a feeling, event, or challenge that the student had overcome. When each film was over, the audience gave a standing ovation to show our students how much they appreciated their films and stories. In this way our students felt valued and reconnected to the community they live in.
Digital storytelling continues to be an incredible tool for our students during this academic year. This class is currently being taught at College Hill High School by Anne Foltz, our wonderful Language Arts teacher. My hope is that our yearly film festival will soon raise enough money to provide this opportunity to other schools in our area and allow them to share their students’ stories.
Watch part 1 and 2 of the Resilience Project 2016 here.