For twenty years South High School seniors have been participating in a unique, expressive, hands-on opportunity. Video VOICES, which stands for Values, Options, Issues and ChoicEs in Society, is a class for students to explore their world and express their discoveries with film.
Students learn how “to read and write with this medium,” said John Akre, MTN Youth Programs Director. MTN (Minneapolis Television Network, the public access cable provider for the city of Minneapolis) collaborates with South High to provide the training and use of cameras and editing equipment.
Today, video represents “much of the dialogue of our culture,” said Akre. Indeed, over the twenty years of the program, video has gone from being an involved and expensive medium to becoming a practical and accessible one.
Being “literate” in this medium helps students develop a critical eye to view media as they learn to create it, said Akre.
Each year, students must apply for the class; this year, around 50 are enrolled. One such student is Freesia Towle, 18, who appreciates the control that she has on her projects. “[Film] is an exquisite way to capture something in a way that nobody else would visualize it,” she said.
Videos by South High students
Obtuse Crew: A Look Behind the Scenes by Kiah Zellner-Smith, Annie Buenneke, and Adrian Harris, MTN
Throughout the year, students are required to complete three projects-a Public Service Announcement, a documentary, and a project of their choice. The class has students creating their projects in a process similar to that used in professions environments, requiring story boards and a session to pitch their ideas to the faculty and their peers, said Akre.
For all the projects, the students are free to speak their minds. “It’s their voice; they can say what they want,” says Video VOICES instructor and South High School social studies teacher, Neil Anderson. Each year, Anderson says he’s impressed with the work of the students who have taken on topics such as family farm decline, returning Iraq vets, light rail, and tobacco lawsuits. “Some of them just blow you away,” he said.
Some students are using the class to tell their own story. Lea Harris, 18, made her documentary about her High School ski team-who the members were, how they trained, and their team goals.
And besides developing raw film-making, other virtues are being strengthened through Video VOICES. “I learned a lot about teamwork. It’s really crucial that you work with people that you agree with and you can get along with,” said Towle.
Harris said, “Mostly I’ll be using the patience skill that I learned.”
The program operates as a “double class” with twice the normal class size and a two hour class period running all year, said Akre. It’s a big undertaking, but Video VOICES has had a lot of help over its 20 years.
The project started in conjunction with the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. Through the years, an impressive array of local leaders has participated with the class. Governor Ventura came to South High School to perform his radio show during the class, said Anderson. Both Mayor Rybak and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman have been in a number of pieces, said Anderson. Other local leaders who have helped students with projects have been Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone, and Mark Dayton.
This year, Americorps has partnered with the VOICES program, sending St. Thomas graduate, Chris Nordensen, to help students with the creation of their videos.
Some of the students who have take advantage of the class have gone on to careers in related fields. “One girl is working for HBO sports,” said Anderson. Other alums include current MTN board member Joel Rainville and Hollywood film-actor, Josh Hartnett.
If you would like to view some of these efforts that may “blow you away,” check out on MTN on cable and on mtn.org.
Video Voices projects are aired on MTN channel 17 every Monday night at 8pm. MTN channels are available to cable subscribers in the city of Minneapolis.
Also visit mtn.org/youth to see all the Voices documentaries and other projects from this year and the last few years.