South Medford High School students, from left, Mike Filippi, Jake Frakes, David Hammack, Riley Yandell and David Parker-Stevens are some of the students who participated in a video project in teacher Dan Woodward's American Studies classes. - Bob Pennell

Videos document the issues

Don't try to tell South Medford High School underclassmen they're apathetic. South sophomores have just created 45 spirited video documentaries carrying messages for President Barack Obama.

The five- to eight-minute videos were made by nearly 150 students in Dan Woodward's American Studies classes, focusing on issues such as the wars, the economy, health care, the environment, poverty and more.

Woodward said the project, which this week has featured students showing and defending their work, was done in conjunction with the C-SPAN television network's StudentCam video documentary contest. Since work began just before Christmas break, students have done their research, conducted interviews, shot the footage and edited it on computers.

"I thought it would be a good way to incorporate the new president coming in," Woodward said.

Participating students will be up for cash prizes and a scholarship of up to $5,000, he said. Some were even planning to enter their work in the Ashland Independent Film Festival's student film division this spring.

Most of the films shown on a recent day were advocacy pieces in which students tried to drum up support for their viewpoints. David Hammack, Riley Yandell and Celia Evans made a piece on immigration that charged, with "America the Beautiful" playing in the background, that illegal immigration was "too easy" and that many immigrants wind up on welfare.

Chelsee Kessler, Hanna Curtius and Amanda Gardner created an anti-abortion message. Abortions, they said, have taken the lives of many more "pre-born humans" than the number of people killed in America's recent wars. A doctor in the piece said that some abortions are needed to save the mother's life, but Amanda said she would permit abortions only in cases of rape.

David Parker-Stevens, Jake Frakes and Mike Filippi focused on America's consumption of imported oil. After setting the stage with a lead-in on gas prices and President Obama's campaign assertion that the nation could reach energy independence in 10 years, they came down on the side of Texas billionaire and gas salesman T. Boone Pickens' plan for a massive conversion of American cars to burning natural gas.

Presentations are scheduled to continue today. Woodward has invited teachers who want to bring their classes to contact him at 842-1485 or

Woodward said goals for the project, in addition to developing video and software skills among students, were to get them thinking about vital issues, and to get them to present and defend their work to an audience.

The school lost its video lab in a previous round of budget cuts, and he wrote a grant to get the four digital video cameras students used and access to a video editing system.

After the video presentations, some of the students talked about their work in Woodward's classroom.

"The point was to find ways to insert your beliefs into other things," David Hammack said of the immigration piece.

Asked why they didn't talk to any immigrants for a piece on immigration, David and Riley said they felt the point of view of a Hispanic person "would be biased."

They wanted to talk only with people in positions of power or authority, they said. One of their sources, a businessman, said immigrants do work Americans won't do, and that they benefit industries by working for less money than citizens.

David and Riley said they had little or no video experience and learned a lot in working to overcome problems they had with the software and computers they used, sometimes putting in extra hours in the classroom.

David Parker-Stevens, Mike and Jake focused on cars and American consumption of foreign oil, along with a nod to America's potential for wind generation of electricity. The Pickens Plan also calls for a new electrical grid, solar power, nuclear power and incentives to upgrade home and building insulation. The boys said they considered proposals other than Pickens' but decided against including them because they felt Pickens had the best thought-out energy plan they'd seen.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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