Students, teachers to screen video at White House film fest


Students and teachers from Highlands and Mill Street schools in Naperville are headed to the White House next week to screen the video they produced at the first ever White House Student Film Festival.

A team of students from Mill Street and Highlands schools and their art teachers Kyle Wood (Highlands) and Chuck Hoff (Mill) will join other finalists from across the country in Washington, D.C., for the festival scheduled Feb. 28 at the White House.

The student team includes Reyah Doshi and Garrett Dahn from Mill Street and Sarah Matus, Emily Villazon and Jesse Barney from Highlands.

“I was completely shocked! Still hasn’t sunk in yet for me,” Hoff said. “The students are so unbelievably honored to be finalists. They cried with joy over the weekend when they were informed we were finalists.”

“The students are tremendously excited about this and deservedly proud,” Wood said.

Emily said when they started working on the White House video, “we were just kind of making it for fun, and we were actually being prepared for disappointment.”

But now, they are preparing for the opposite.

The festival is showcasing videos that illustrate how technology is integrated in classrooms today and how technology can be used in education in the future. Videos could be no longer than three minutes, and more than 2,500 videos were submitted.

For the video, Highlands and Mill Street students, who had never met in person, created a video dramatization of a pilot program that the two teachers developed last spring. The pilot program involved pairing students between the two schools and using new technology.

About 50 student volunteers in first through fifth grades participated in this project before school, during recess and in some class time.

“While the video showed students pretending to send projects back and forth, they were in reality developing new ways of working together as we shot video,” said Wood.

It took about two to three weeks for the students to plan the video, create props, act out the scenes, animate the backgrounds, and compose the soundtrack from a mix of loops and live recording of their own drumming.

“It demonstrated great technical mastery of the medium while conveying a clear message,” said Hoff.

With more than 40 students contributing at Highlands and 11 students at Mill Street, the grueling challenge became picking which students would make the trek to Washington, D.C.

“Choosing who would go was an agonizing process from the beginning,” Wood said.

“When we were first contacted, I was asked to think of one or two students who were primarily responsible for the project. I had three students from Highlands who had more investment in the piece.

“Sarah Matus first proposed the project, so she was a fairly obvious choice, and two of my students were involved at every step from the planning to completion and particularly with some of the more complex editing functions,” Wood said.

“I initially narrowed the field to those three thinking I would have to randomly draw one name, but after explaining how much work these kids all contributed, I was able to convince the person from the White House to give us a few extra spots.”

Because 11 Mill Street kids contributed equally, names were randomly drawn.

Their teachers could be more thrilled.

“I was exceptionally proud of the students who worked hard to create this film,” said Hoff. ”The students delivered a perfect message of what art looks like when we do it as a team.”

Wood added the video is an opportunity to demonstrate how our students put into practice the district mission: to educate students to be self-directed learners, collaborative workers, complex thinkers, quality producers and community contributors.

“They were undoubtedly quality producers, but also collaborative workers despite the hurdle of never having met or spoken directly to their peers from the other building,” Wood said.

“This project was student-initiated and led to a large degree with Mr. Hoff and me facilitating them to be self-directed learners. They were complex thinkers in creating special effects that often required three layers of video and using things like the green screen effect in ways it was not designed for (in a good way).

“Finally, our students have contributed greatly to our community by creating this project that serves as a model for what can be accomplished through dedication, hard work and collaboration,” Wood said.

To see their creation, visit

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