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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Feinstein Providence Campus program captivates budding film makers, encourages kids in school

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 10, 2005 -- A group of seniors from Classical High School in Providence and about 12 fourth and fifth grade students from the William D'Abate Elementary School in Olneyville are viewing films from new perspectives -- from behind a camera and in front of a computer with top-notch video-editing tools.

The 'video kids' are all participating in a hands-on program at the University of Rhode Island's Feinstein Providence Campus that explores the essentials of film and video production including writing, filming, editing, and animation. The program is being team-taught with teachers from Classical and community members on behalf of Olneyville Community School.

The program started last year thanks to support from URI President Robert L. Carothers and John McCray, Vice Provost for Urban Programs at the Feinstein Providence Campus. Dana Neugent, a media supervisor at the Feinstein Providence Campus and his assistant, graduate student Michael Stevenson, began the program in response to an initial request by Classical High School film studies teacher, Sandra Lewis.

"With a grant from the president, Sandra and I began team-teaching this class. Students spent two hours a week learning hands-on lessons that supported the theory being taught in the classroom. If Sandra was teaching about animation, I worked with the students with a camera and a computer and taught them how animations can be created," said Neugent. "It was wonderful to see how excited these students were with each new step."

At the end of the last school year the Classical seniors added a “Multimedia Certificate” to their academic portfolios and took along an extra skill set and sense of accomplishment. Most of the students are now studying film at colleges around the country.

After the successful pilot effort, this year the two began teaching the class as a full-year program. Based on her experiences, Lewis applied for and received a Pew Charitable Trust grant to help fund equipment for use at the high school.

"I found that as my students gain technical expertise, they become more engaged and look at films more critically," said Lewis. “I teach students about film from a theoretical and historical perspective and explore all of the elements involved from screenplay writing to performance to cinematography. But this hands-on component really brings it all to life.

"Beyond the film experience itself, this partnership with professionals at the Feinstein Providence Campus helps students make real-world connections and further engages them in the school atmosphere," Lewis added. "This program is really filling a need."

Neugent said that this year the Classical seniors have been working on independent films about many different issues. One project used 'South Park' style animation, while another was about the questions surrounding public versus private schools. In a third project, a student wrote a script, cast actors from the school, and created a 10-minute film based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

While they are not yet producing 10-minute films, several of the fourth and fifth grade students from the Olneyville area in Providence may have a bright future in film, says Saulius Sruogis, an artist and professional filmmaker who volunteers with the project that is run through the Olneyville Community Schools. Sruogis and Jodi Apicelli, a children's specialist at the Olneyville Branch of the Providence Public Library are working with Neugent and Stevenson to bring multimedia to life for this younger crew. They take the children to the Feinstein Providence Campus the last Saturday every month to work in the lab.

"We're definitely going to hear more from and about these children in the future," Sruogis said. "We are taking this process one step at a time. Before we started, a lot of these students wouldn't even think about going to college. But now they'll consider and work towards that kind of goal."

"This process really empowers these kids. They look at stuff that Steven Spielberg has done and learn that they can do it too. They're excited by the outcome and motivated to do even more," said Neugent.

"Both Dr. McCray and the President have been very supportive about this program the whole way. Without them, this program would not have happened," he said. "It's an important part of the role the University plays in the community."