We’ve been exceptionally lucky. In a world filled with disease, inequality, violence, and poverty, we’ve been given the opportunity to hope by working with a generation of young people determined to change everything.
Two years ago, Steeltown Entertainment Project launched the “Take a Shot at Changing the World” Contest, a digital media initiative that asks middle and high school students throughout the region to make short films about their big ideas to change the world, or that tell stories of local events or people that had a global impact.
Since its inception, over 400 students from nearly 60 schools have submitted videos about topics and issues that are meaningful to them, ranging from Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine, to Mister Rogers’ and the Pittsburgh neighborhood, to climate change and how to put an end to bullying.
On May 20th, 2012, they gathered at the Heinz History Center for the first ever “Take a Shot at Changing the World” Film Festival, where they had the chance to see their films featured on the big screen, meet other young filmmakers, and share their experiences making movies. They came proud, bringing in tow parents, siblings, friends, and teachers, and they came eager, all wondering who would leave with over $10,000 in prizes, some of which would go to fund students’ big ideas and change the world.
Some of them had been working for months independently after reading about the contest in the paper, or meeting us at career fairs, while others, like the students at Greater Latrobe High School, or at Falk Laboratory School had teachers who had built this contest into their curricula. Passionate teachers have been vital to the contest’s success; our greatest challenge has been getting “Take a Shot” into schools. How do you get teachers, who already have so much to do, and have very specific standards to meet, to champion a new project? The key has been to connect with one incredible teacher at each school, someone who is willing to go above and beyond, even more than teachers already do, to encourage their students to take a shot.
One of our favorite aspects of this contest has been the diversity of fields and people involved. Sometimes, it’s a technology teacher who has adopted this into their classroom. Sometimes, a science teacher, or a phys ed teacher, or a librarian. Through this contest, we’ve been reminded that storytelling is a part of every field, crucial to every kind of person.
And the stories the students have told have been inspiring, to say the least. There’s the high school junior who made a film about his father’s muscular dystrophy and his plans to raise awareness and search for a cure. One middle school student composed a rap song and music video about David Lawrence’s contributions to greening Pittsburgh, while a team of students from the Western PA School for the Deaf made a film encouraging the use of rain barrels. A group of ninth-graders proposed a network and helpline composed of teens helping teens to combat depression. Thirteen year-old Maggie Mayer, the winner of the Globechanger’s Prize for Social Action is currently planning her trip to D.C. for the Jefferson Awards annual black-tie dinner alongside guests like General Petraeus and Harry Connick, Jr., where her project “Act as One,” which collects donations as small as one dollar to go towards basic needs for people around the world (vaccines, food, clean water, school books) will be featured. As a result of this contest, she will receive mentorship to get her project started, and her $2500 prize money will go towards getting it off the ground.
We are hopeful for the future not only because students want to change the world, but because when so much of our relation to media today revolves around consumption, they are finding ways to use it to create stories, relate to peers, and inspire others.
And perhaps this is what makes the Take a Shot Contest unique—in a time when the computer is so often a vehicle to avoid human interaction, when we spend entire days alone staring at screens and students tap away at keyboards instead of having conversations, Take A Shot uses digital media as a way to promote cooperation, collaboration, and communication. And it’s not only forcing students to engage with one another and with their communities, thinking critically about their collective pasts and futures, it has also facilitated partnerships between so many organizations throughout the region and beyond—the Heinz History Center, the Jefferson Awards, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the World Affairs Council, Rotary International and local Rotary chapters, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and individual parents and teachers who knew kids with the power to change the world and were just looking for their chance.
Changing the world isn’t easy, and moving forward, we need your help. This could be the start of something big, but only if we all work together to make a difference, if we all work together to ignite an interest (or should we say Spark?) in the hearts of young people—if we can get them early on to use media to raise awareness, inspire and educate others, to care about meaningful social issues, then even when the world seems daunting and depressing and impossible, it is also filled with hope.
Visit www.takeashotcontest.org to view the 2012 submissions yourself and stay tuned for the next contest!
Written by Rachel Shepherd, Program Manager, Steeltown Entertainment Project