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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cesar Chavez-Parkside Middle School produces music video to fight depression

There was a time during this spring service-learning season, when writing coach Dominique Kelly needed a “Kumbaya moment.”

Her class at Cesar Chavez-Parkside Middle School had gone through the proper steps during writing classes. The students had discussed and identified the issues they felt were most serious within their school and surrounding community.

Obesity. Homelessness. Bullying.

Then, using “Get 2 the Root of the Problem” worksheets, “they found that depression seemed to be the reason people got bullied, why peopled gained weight, why people became homeless,” Kelly said.

The students talked to social workers within the school and conducted online research to verify their conclusion that depression is an illness that precipitates such serious, hard-to-solve issues. The students had learned a lot.

But that was just the opening stage of the Leadership in Action project. How could they actually tackle depression within their school? What would the action be?

That’s where they hit a wall. That’s where the stalled. Kelly admitted that her close-knit group of poet-athletes briefly lost focus.

On a whim, she turned to eighth-grade math teacher Leonard Muhamad, who has several DC SCORES students in his class. She turned to the right person.

It turns out Muhamad’s favorite song is Lupe Fiasco’s “And he gets the Girl,” a rap about a social outcast overcoming his fear and confidence issues to, well, “get the girl."

“I played the song for the students, and they chose it over the other options they had,” Muhamad said.

Since that moment, the Cesar-Chavez DC SCORES team has dove headfirst into creating a teaching video similar to the project’s inspiration.

First, the story needed to be written. They tweaked the famous musician’s tale a bit, making their version about an angry and often depressed student who couldn’t get a date for eighth-grade prom.

Then they began filming with Kelly’s digital camera, shooting each scene however many times it took to get it right. By the beginning of this week, they had filmed on four or five occasions in different locations — the classroom, other parts of the school, at soccer practice — and were almost ready to begin editing.

“I’m happy that they’re taking control of it,” Kelly said. “There’s not a lot of teacher direction. They came in and wrote that agenda (today) on the board.

“I told them, ‘This is your project. It’s not about me. I will give ideas if necessary. If you have a better one, roll with it.’ I just watch, help when I need to.”

Being in front of the camera has helped students become more confident speaking publicly and less introverted, Kelly said, and everyone has contributed to different aspects of the production. Eighth-grader Imani J. has played the main girl character, but is just as interested in video production as acting.

“There’s a lot of homework and dedication in it, it takes a lot of time, but if you put your mind to it, you can get it done,” she said.

The students were giddy with anticipation as they prepared to put the final touches on the video. Once done, they plan to speak to the school community by hosting sessions on depression for fellow students during open periods.

A typical session will consist of participants first taking a survey about depression; watching the video; and finally taking a quiz to determine what was learned and to get any feedback from the DC SCORES students.

“As a teacher, it’s been extremely gratifying,” Muhamad said. “To see them really get into something — they come up with ideas, they put their all into it and we don’t have to micromanage — it’s just something that they feel excited about and they make it work.

“To sit back and actually watch them do something that they enjoy, something that’s not easy to do — and they do a good job at it — it’s very rewarding.”

The students are exhilarated about the thought of finishing the video and the sense of accomplishment that will accompany it, but they’re also eager to help classmates struggling at school. After all, they were the ones who chose to focus on depression.

“I’m very excited just for the chance to help other kids who go through this,” Imani said. “It means a lot to me.”

Stay tuned for the final video, coming soon. In the meantime, listen to Imani and fellow video producer and eighth-grader Justin C. describe the project (above).

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