What began as a spontaneous impulse to report on the 2006 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) five years ago has become one of the most prestigious curriculum offerings on the campus of Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS).
In these five years, the SBMS Teen Press has covered the 2009 Obama Inauguration, interviewed hundreds of international and local newsmakers, and secured its place among the elite press corps on the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s red carpet. SBMS Social Studies teacher and Teen Press co-advisor John Seigel-Boettner says the students realize they are the voice of other young people in our community. “Our bottom line is to try to be more human and not just act, but to genuinely be sincere and honest in our questions.” The students feel the responsibility to accurately and passionately report on whatever story it is that they are called to report.
Seigel-Boettner’s Teen Press “sidekick” is Digital Arts teacher David Teton-Landis. He feels strongly that this experience impacts kids in some authentic ways. “It’s an opportunity for our kids to take on some adult roles and to be taken seriously,” Landis remarks, “and our students get the chance to talk with some really interesting and inspiring people.”
Politicians Al Gore and Dennis Kucinich, actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, authors Greg Mortensen and Ray Bradbury, and musician Jack Johnson (just to name a few) are among the people that Teen Press has interviewed over their five-year run.
During sixth period Seigel-Beottner meets with his eight-member press corps of mostly sevnth grade students to help prepare them for the upcoming red carpet experience. “I want you to watch at least one other interview of the person you’ll be interviewing and take notes,” he says at the whiteboard, “see if there’s a question that softens them up, find something that resonates with you, and maybe that’s the direction you want to go.”
He points to two words written on the board-passion and philanthropy. Seigel-Boettner suggests, “Remember when Zoë (Plaxco) asked Leonardo DeCaprio about his connection with the ‘Save the Tigers Foundation?’ Go there. Follow their passionate cause.”
To get “there” Zoë Plaxco and her colleagues have to work at it. “Teen Press is pretty popular at our school and lots of students apply for the opportunity be on the Teen Press. “It’s funny though,” Plaxco remarks, “because how many schools do you know where the kids are trying to get into a class that gives them extra work, and requires them to plan and work late into the night?”
That extra work includes reviewing movies, reading bios, often maintaining their own blog, and publishing movie reviews on the Teen Press website. Seventh grader Evangeline Enriquez says, “It’s not like we’re just going out to see a movie. The whole time we’re working we are either researching or preparing for our interviews, and we are focusing on what would be a good question to ask.
”At first, the work is primarily researching,” comments reporter, Peter Carlson. “It’s very hard to research sometimes, because we are looking for an angle or a new question that maybe hasn’t been asked before.” Peter adds, “but if we dig deep enough, we get really good questions.”
Fellow Teen Press member Shuba Brady smiles and recalls, “That’s when the magic happens…after all the research, we finally ask them a great question. We almost shock a lot of interviewees when they realize we know so much about them.” Shuba continues, “You actually get these people to talk about more personal stuff, and this is the stuff they really care about.”
SBIFF Public Relations Chief Carol Marshall thought it a bit unusual when SBMS approached her five years ago this week, yet every year since she has been impressed with the students’ preparation, tenacity, and drive. “When these kids are on the red carpet they ask very intelligent questions. Everyone that stops to talk with them remarks, ‘Oh wow, good question!’ Carol continues, “These teens get good answers; maybe even better than a legitimate news source.”
During the ten-day film festival the students will record nearly 100 video interviews. Like all quality news stories, the immediacy and timeliness of posting their stories is of utmost importance. Teton-Landis and Seigel-Boettner spend long days and late nights editing and uploading the final interviews onto You Tube, linking their stories to our local newspapers’ coverage of the SBIFF, and posting complete interviews on their own SBMSTeenpress website (www.sbmsteenpress.org). For an example of Teen press perseverance and do-diligence go to You Tube and type in ‘Teen press James Franco’.
Our next segment of the SBMS Teen Press five-year anniversary celebration will highlight some Teen Press graduates and the lasting impact the Teen Press has had on their lives.