Little people, big world. Twelve and 13-year olds standing elbow to elbow with seasoned journalists and professional reporters. One-by-one stars of the silver screen make their way along the red carpet from microphone to microphone; they look down, they smile, and from out of the mouths of pre-teens and teenagers come personal, serious, and well-researched questions about the actors’ pasts, their passions, and the philanthropies that they support.
This year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) marks the sixth time that the Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS) Teen Press will ask what inquiring minds want to know. David Teton-Landis, Santa Barbara Middle School teacher and Teen Press co-advisor, says, “The professional journalists come in often with really basic questions about hair types and dresses. Our kids come in with both a great attitude and really great questions, and consequently, they get taken seriously and they get respect.”
Fellow Teen Press advisor and social studies teacher John Seigel-Boettner recalls a few years back when actor Brad Pitt came to honor his wife Angelina Jolie at the Film Festival, “The only press group that he agreed to speak with was us. The kids asked him about his work in New Orleans (post-Hurricane Katrina), and he was impressed that they knew what he was about.”
Current and past SBMS Teen Press students often remark how this curriculum and this experience makes them better people. Marlon Godlis, SBMS seventh grade student who is currently completing his first quarter in Teen Press, says, “It’s teaching me how to be more outgoing; less shy. I’ve become a harder worker and it’s been easier for me to approach people.”
Zoë Plaxco, SBMS seventh grader, is a two-quarter seasoned veteran. “Teen Press helps build up your self confidence when you ask complete strangers well-researched questions, and they really get into the interview,” remarks Zoë.
Since the inception of the SBMS Teen Press five years ago this week, Teton-Landis has routinely witnessed quantum leaps in his students’ self-confidence and self-reliance. “In this process of researching, approaching, and engaging adults, the kids learn to listen more, speak more fluidly, and think on their feet.”
Former Teen Press member and current Santa Barbara High School (SBHS) sophomore Logan Carmody says the reporting opportunity made him a quick thinker. “You are encouraged to prepare for whom you’re interviewing, but when the topic starts going elsewhere you need to follow it,” Carmody says. Now Logan is floor director for a locally directed and student-driven live weekly teen magazine show called Santa Barbara Teen News Network (sbTNN). Its format is fast-paced just like Teen Press. Trixie Geyer, program director for sbTNN, says, “Logan’s a really good leader, he can take charge, and he’s an independent thinker.”
Logan comments, “Life is moving pretty fast for me in high school, with papers due, Club volleyball and extra-curricular stuff, so having the Teen Press experience has helped me handle the pace of high school life.”
SBHS senior and editor in chief of Santa Barbara Kids Magazine Katy Villanueva says that this magazine project is a direct result of the independent “go for it” spirit she learned while she was a student at SBMS. Wanting to give back to her community, Villanueva spearheaded the magazine as a social enterprise that recycles all advertising profits back into community programs. She says the message is simple, “Any kid can be a change-maker, so don’t be afraid to take your idea and run with it.”
Carmody’s Teen Press classmate Eliana Schiffer recalls ending each of her interviews with the same question, “What do you want your legacy to be?” Now this SBHS sophomore reflects on that question with deeper meaning. Schiffer shares, “I kind of go through life now with a bigger picture of what I want my legacy to be. That I’m honest, that I choose integrity, and that these are the characteristics that I live by.”
As Annette Benning, Christopher Nolan and James Franco are asked about their legacies this week, their young interviewers will be busy creating their own; one well-researched question at a time.