Big thinkers tackle video project

by Casey Mahon
Special to the Star News

Eight Rogers High School students must love ice cream. With nothing more than an offer to do something “ridiculous” from their teacher, eight out of approximately 60 AP English seniors accepted an offer to create a video about leadership as part of the school district’s strategic planning process.

In less than one week. On their own time. With virtually no instructions. And all they had to start with were four qualifiers:

•Have good technology skills;

•Be big thinkers, take on an unrealistic project and get it done;

•Make a multimedia video that is five to seven minutes in length about leadership and,

•Make at least one person be moved to tears.

Their teacher, Susan Romane, who was also a member of the action planning team, said she needed a multi-media presentation that demonstrated the importance of the school district’s commitment to the development of leaders.

Among the students who worked on a video as part of the Elk River Area School District’s development of a strategic plan proposal were Joelle Stangler, Matthew Doyle, Miles Peterson, Nandu Ganesh, Ross Conn, Tolu Odunuss and Trevor Springer. They celebrated their success with ice cream cake at Rogers High School where they attended school this past school year.

She explained that the research she and members of her team had come across on building and supporting leaders gave her the idea to get students to take charge of this project. Having students in charge also assured that the presentation would be from the students’ perspective.

“I gave them very little information. I wanted this to be something the students created, something that was their vision, not mine. What we’ve learned about making good leaders is you allow them to self-identify, give them a difficult task and then believe they can get it done. You then empower them by giving them resources, supporting them and getting out of their way. Most important, you need to be willing to embrace the product in the end,” she said.”

When asked why they accepted Romane’s offer, with virtually no information, vague instructions and only a promise of an ice cream party, all responded at virtually the same time. “We were lab rats.”

They also agreed to take on the “unrealistic project” even though AP exams were just two weeks away.

“All of us are involved in some school organizations, and we are used to being relied on for various things, so it keeps us motivated,” said Nandu Ganesh.

After meeting with Romane, the eight met to discuss deadlines, assign responsibilities and brainstorm ideas. “We spent a lot of time together for a week, including coming together on a Sunday, and we succeeded not only on the project, but learning how to work together as a team,” added Ganesh.

“Originally we started this as a slide show, but in the end it wasn’t that at all, it had a message, said Tolu Odunuss. “From the start we wanted to divide the video by school levels, showing the progression of leadership.”

“Our first project was going to Rogers Middle School without knowing exactly what we were going to do other than taking video and photos related to leadership, said project videographer Trevor Springer. “What we did was ask students to write down what they want to be by writing these on cards, and it worked.”

“When we went to Hassan (Elementary School), the teacher gave the kindergartners cards what they want to be when they grow up, said Ross Conn. “It was hilarious; one little girl fell asleep while we were filming.”

Rogers High School on day four was “the most challenging, most random, mostly because we did it during school hours,” said Matthew Doyle. “By then our vision was coming together.” Added Joelle Stangler, “We had all the photos and video for editing, so we then moved on to how to take a lot of visions and put it into one coherent thought.”

With the raw footage and photos, days five and six were dedicated to editing. “The software was at the school, so in between classes and after school we would do our editing,” said Matthew Doyle. “We stayed until 8:30 p.m. on a Friday, then came back Sunday and edited from 3:30 to nearly 9 p.m.”

It was only during the editing that the whole concept came together. The eight said Springer was a “cut-throat director,” but they supported him and were unified in the project. “The speech portion is what brought the theme together,” said Stangler.

The eight completed their video. Or so they thought.

“We were told a member of the action team really liked the video, but wanted three minutes pulled, and we had to do this in one day,” said Miles Peterson.

“Showing the video to the people from the community, the School Board, the superintendent and committee members was somewhat intimidating, so we were shocked because they were so moved by it,” said Conn. “We were very proud of what we did, we were so convinced it was good, we had taken something from it and we were thrilled.”

Their project was intended to educate and inspire others about leadership, but what they found through their week-long project was they became empowered in ways they didn’t expect.

“Group leadership works and not being told what to do empowered us,” said Conn.

“We needed to learn to compromise because we are all leaders; we are used to having a plan, so this was out of our comfort zone, trust and vision,” said Stangler.

“What I discovered is you don’t need a title or a position to be a leader; you don’t need to have a role to be of value to others,” said Ganesh.

Romane came through with the ice cream party. Interestingly, not all of the seven who could show partook. They were more interested in telling their story and what they learned. What started out as a project about leadership for a school district by high school leaders ended with an astute observation about children still in elementary and middle school.

“These little kids are going to fill our shoes as leaders,” emphasized Ganesh.

Link to video: