On June 10, nearly 400 people attended screenings of the 2019 Kulshan Middle School Seventh Grade Film Festival at the Pickford Film Center in downtown Bellingham. The festival was a compilation of short video stories written, filmed and edited by Kulshan seventh graders in the second semester of the 2018-19 school year.
The Bellingham Public Schools Foundation funded the initial costs of the project with a BIG IDEA grant in 2018-19, covering start-up media equipment, field trip expenses, and the expertise of the educational outreach organization called Bellingham Youth Media Project. The goal of the grant was to have students develop habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world, purposes laid out by the National Association of Media Literacy Education.
Beginning with the fundamental idea that telling stories, being literate and communicating today is now much more than just reading and writing, Kulshan seventh grade language arts teachers Tim Cosgrove and Jodie Schoolcraft built the framework for this project with the Bellingham Youth Media Project, who then worked closely with the students to bring their stories to life in film.
Using various forms of media including original music, photography, illustrations and writing, the project showcased the collaborative efforts and the creativity of all 207 Kulshan seventh graders. Students chose what type of role they wanted to play, whether it was behind-the-scenes writing, filming, editing, finding sponsors, or onscreen in autobiographical or documentary films.
Principal Meagan Dawson shared these thoughts about the film festival in a summary sent to Kulshan families after the screening. “We know that literacy is changing,” she wrote, “and our desire is to give kids an authentic voice and opportunities to share their stories in a way that is meaningful to them.”
“When the idea of the film festival came about, we also knew it was not something we could achieve on our own, and we are extremely grateful to the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation and the Bellingham Youth Media Project for their support.”
In a joint response, teachers Cosgrove and Schoolcraft shared more information about the overall experience for their students:
How much time was involved?
We began to prepare for the work from the beginning of the school year with learning around storytelling, use of technology, and emphasizing collaboration and communication. The project was formally introduced to students in February, and it was the focus in our classroom in the second semester.
What was the final project?
Audiences saw a variety of student media projects including photo essays, music videos, animations, and feature films. Students were encouraged to tell stories that were important to them and topics included climate change, coping with divorce, trying to “fit in,” and more. In addition to telling their stories, students also reached out to local businesses seeking sponsorship for our film festival. As result, they raised over $1,400 for Northwest Youth Services. They selected this organization because it directly serves students in our Kulshan community.
What were some of the biggest takeaways for these student filmmakers?
The following responses were collected from students Reiley, Lily, Kelsey, Kai, Deven and Sophia:
“Doing something positive.”
“Working with others to accomplish a goal.”
“Overcoming challenges when working with others.”
“Importance of collaboration.”
“It felt like real world work and not like something we do in school.”
“We had to be independent instead of having a teacher guiding everything we did.”.
“I learned perspectives of different kids. There are a lot of different strengths and challenges that people have.”
“I was pushed out of my comfort zone.”
“It wasn’t like any experience I have ever had in a class, and I know I may not have any experience like it again.”
The Bellingham Youth Media Project states its mission is “encourag(ing) participants to create multimedia projects that raise awareness of issues concerning personal identity as well as community issues, and to inspire calls to action!” If you watch these short films from the Kulshan students, one can see how their mission is accomplished.