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The Eye of the Storm: Casco Bay High School Students Explore Their Generation's Impact

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    Alexis Margolin

In 2013-’14, juniors at EL Mentor School Casco Bay High School for Expeditionary Learning in Portland, ME, were presented with the realities of climate change and asked to examine their role in effecting change. 
They launched the year with a study of greenhouse gases and researched, drafted and presented to experts their own public policy proposals aimed at addressing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Armed with expertise, they then traveled as a class to the Rockaways in New York, an area devastated one year earlier by Hurricane Sandy, to assist in reconstruction efforts while working to document the stories of those affected by the storm. Their culminating product was a multimedia film drawing attention to the realities of climate change while capturing the struggle and resilience of those in the storm’s path. Here are their reflections on the moments when they first took full ownership of their own learning, as featured in the EL National Conference 2014 newsletter, Signpost

Liam Fowler: 
“Ms. Markoff, our teacher, walked off down the road, leaving behind our team of four and Carol, a victim of Hurricane Sandy. I muttered to Ben, ‘This is going to be awkward.’ We began discussing the view, the calm water, and even the quality of the sand. It was obvious that someone needed to take charge, and so without any communication, Ben and I guided the conversation toward the day of the storm. From then on, instincts kicked in, and I found myself able to use the documentary skills I had learned in class. Andrew held the microphone, Noah took pictures of the damage, and Ben filmed the tide. We needed nothing more than our desire to unearth the story.” 

Asa Shadis: 
“The tragedy of Hurricane Sandy highlighted certain aspects of human nature—resilience, cooperation, selflessness, and pride. We were in the Rockaways to hear Shyanne Hartman’s story, not Hurricane Sandy’s. As a unit, the four of us pondered how to approach the retelling. Knowing that Shyanne and her family would serve as both subject and audience was a motivating factor in our tireless efforts to produce something beautiful and to honor the time spent with Shyanne. I felt an overwhelming sense of duty to create a documentary that did justice to the Hartmans’ inspirational story.” 

Patty Wani: 
“I spent two days with Malika, the interviewee, and her family. While conducting interviews, we were focused on 
finding the story and managing the situation. We had to make the person comfortable, check that the equipment was working, find the right seating and lighting, and ask the right questions. When we returned to school, we each worked to bring out the personality and story of our interviewee in a written oral history. Now, I needed a wider look; I tried to watch the whole interview unfold in my mind. Listening to our recordings, I pulled out sentences that captured Malika’s characteristics. There were so many choices to make in order to figure out what would bring Malika’s story to life for someone who had not met her. I wanted to share how important her family was to her after going through something so life changing. I had learned from professionals and become an expert with video, and had been given time to practice in downtown Portland. I had met and spoken to this person and I hoped to make her feel as if her story had been shared to its fullest.”

Oriana Smith:
“We sat in a crowded room with our entire class, our families, and friends from the Rockaways who had traveled from New York to Maine to see the documentaries of their stories. This was it, the culmination of our expedition, the final moment we had all been preparing for. We could all see the summit. I held my breath as we watched each masterpiece. As the screen faded to black, the room erupted in smiles. It was the perfect way to end the hardest expedition of our lives. Then it hit me. The work we had accomplished didn’t just bring together the class, but the entire community, including those affected by Hurricane Sandy. With these films, we were honoring these people and their stories, and in the process, lifting our collective spirit.”