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Vista middle school film program a national success

Above: Students at Rancho Minerva Middle School racked up seven awards this year from its broadcast journalism class including first place for Panasonic New Vision, a national competition. Photo by Steve Puterski

VISTA — It is one of, if not the best, middle school broadcast and video production programs in the country.

The seventh- and eighth-grade students with the Rancho Minerva Middle School Kid Witness News (KWN) made an indelible mark this year, even by teacher Beth Duncan’s standards. The students entered seven competitions and won 10 awards including first place for the prestigious Panasonic New Vision competition for the documentary “Through Their Eyes.”

“It’s all depending on what they put into it,” she said.

The program began four years ago with nothing, not even a camera, she said. Still, the students then brought the goods and awards, which in turn led to a bigger investment from the Vista Unified School District.

They have high-end cameras, work on Apple computers and create a bimonthly news program for the school and shoot documentaries, the calling card of the program.

Duncan has two programs within the program. The seventh-graders learn the basics of shooting, editing, pre- and post-production, digital photography and the software, along with creating and delivering a bimonthly news program.

The eighth-graders, meanwhile, are on the competitive team, creating documentaries and expanding their skills and creative minds.

“We did very simple iMovie and nothing fancy,” Duncan said of the program’s early days. “From there, I started pushing for more computers and more cameras. As we started entering competitions and winning them, more people said yes.”

As the program found its footing, the competitive eighth-grade team began racking up national awards. Since the program’s inception, the students have won the Panasonic competition every year, which also enters them into the international competition in Japan in July.

Duncan stressed that every year there is a new set of students who create, shoot, edit and win various awards, including the Panasonic competition.

As for the creative juices, Duncan allows the students freedom to pursue projects and subjects of their interests.

“It’s about the process,” she said. “And then to have industry professionals validate that what you did is exceptional. That changes their perception of themselves and that also gives them work options and college options.”

Eighth-grader Chelsie Cunanan, 14, is part of the Panasonic team. She does post-production, mainly editing and will be traveling to Japan to represent the school and the U.S.

“I’m thrilled to go to Japan and represent Team USA,” she said. “It’s an opportunity not really everyone can get. If I didn’t take that class, or help produce that video, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Ilenna Hawkins, a 14-year-old eighth-grader and also a part of the team, said she focuses on pre- and post-production with some editing. She also represented the class as a guest emcee at the annual Classroom of the Future Innovation Awards several weeks ago.

Other members of the Panasonic team include Fabian Bernabe, Nicole Villagomez, Brigitte Esquivel, Javiyah Moliga, Barbara Avila, Jasmine Ratliff, Stephanie Martinez, Amilia Sakiewicz, Aldo Hernandez, Lizet Solorio, and Cassandra Vazquez.

“There’s been lots of opportunities to do our own projects and collaborate on projects,” Ilenna said.

As for the awards, the seventh-grade team won a San Diego iVIE (innovation video in education) award for “Bailando con nuestra Cultura” (Dancing with our Culture), plus three other wins and $400. In addition, the program racked up three “Best of Show” awards for the San Diego County Fair, outdoing high school and college entries.