‘Smart Kids Visual Stories’ student-produced films about urban education to premiere at SU June 15

June 14, 2012

The “Smart Kids: Visual Stories” project will hold a red carpet premiere of student documentaries on Friday, June 15, at 7 p.m. in the Joyce N. Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3. The event, sponsored by the Syracuse University School of Education and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served immediately following. Student filmmakers will arrive to walk the red carpet beginning at 6:15 p.m.

“Smart Kids” is the culmination of three years of filming and research by 22 Syracuse City School District middle school students, about their experiences and observations of how urban schools function. With the guidance of SU faculty and graduate students and access to SU facilities and equipment, each student produced their own short film. Excerpts from each film will be shown at the June 15 premiere.

“Smart Kids, Visual Stories,” a Chancellor’s Leadership Grant Project, began at Levy K-8 School as a project where researchers worked with three teachers and 85 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders to discover how students perceived their urban schools. The school closed the next year, and its students were redistributed to four other schools in the Syracuse City School District—Expeditionary Learning School, J.T. Roberts PreK-8 School, Ed Smith School, and Hughes Middle School—and the project continued in those schools with 22 of the original students.

Sari Knopp Biklen, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Cultural Foundations in the School of Education, and Michael Schoonmaker, associate professor of television, radio, and film in the Newhouse School, helped the middle school students create personal digital videos to demonstrate their knowledge of their schools, and helped them practice storytelling and narrative skills.

“The purpose of the project is to let kids speak their minds about the schools they attend every day, and teach others about their urban school experiences in the most authentic way possible,” says Biklen. “The students are knowledgeable about school life, and this project positions them as collaborators with adults in urban school reform.”

In their video explorations, students address immediate and broad concerns they deal with every day such as: How do students understand and react to assumptions that teachers make about them? How does gossip function in schools? Do students believe that teachers and other adults who work in schools treat kids fairly? What makes a good teacher?

Ultimately, the project provided an opportunity for students to speak out and offer their own analysis of their education and school culture. The “Smart Kids” project also hopes to reach a wider audience of policy makers and use students’ perspectives in the urban education reform debate.