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Young filmmakers commended by president

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Student representatives from Mill Street and Highlands Elementary schools in Naperville have a lot to show and tell their classmates this week.

The student team of Reyah Doshi and Garrett Dahn from Mill Street and Sarah Matus, Emily Villazon and Jesse Barney from Highlands attended the White House Student Film Festival on Friday on behalf of their fourth- and fifth-grade classmates who created a video that was recognized in the festival.

Like the Oscars a couple of days later, the event featured red carpet, big screens and a couple celebritites, but thankfully no one to critique what the kids and their teachers were wearing.

Not only did the five students get their picture taken in the White House with President Obama, the kids also met Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, who will appear on the upcoming television series, “Cosmos.”

Competing in the first-ever Student Film Festival was the idea of Sarah Matus and became part of a collaborative teaching project between Highland teacher Kyle Wood and Mill Street teacher Chuck Hoff. The White House asked students to show how technology is important to education now and in the future.

Wood said visiting the White House was amazing.

“While we were inside the White House, I think we were all awestruck as the greatness of this opportunity started to sink in,” he said. “Out of 2,500 submissions, only 16 became official selections. We were one of only three elementary school-aged groups to make the final cut as official selections. The other 13 came from middle and high school students.”

In addition to snapping a photo with all the student winners, the president spoke to all in attendance about the importance of technology in the classroom and congratulated students for their hard work on their video submissions.

“It’s your imagination and your creativity and your innovation and your dreams that are going to help this country move forward. So keep up the great work. We could not be prouder of you. Your parents are proud of you, I know that, and I am, too. America is counting on you,” the president said to the students.

Wood said he thought it was a wonderful testament to the value President Obama places on education and students when he spoke to the kids.

“Even in the midst of such global events (in Ukraine), he remained cognizant of how important the event was for our students, and he took time to talk to them and give his opening remarks to the crowd before being rushed out to speak about Ukraine,” Wood added.

The trip to the White House was the icing on the cake to a day layered with excitement.

“Friday we had a packed schedule before we even made it to the White House. Our congressmen and their staffs gave us some wonderful personalized tours,” Wood said.

The day started with the staff from Wheaton Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam’s office giving the kids a tour of the Capitol that included a chance to sit in the House gallery to watch a vote in progress. Then the staff from Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s office led the kids through the underground tunnels and to the Illinois senator’s office, where they spent 20 minutes engaging the kids asking about how they earned the trip to the White House and sharing the senator’s love of books.

Wood said that visit gave the kids “a wonderfully balanced educational message which they took to heart as the following day we had a few book discussions happening on the plane.”

The group then met up with U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, who spent half an hour talking to the kids about their project. Wood said Foster also shared his thoughts on science and education and asked the kids their opinions about education going forward.

Work already is underway on the next video project. The five kids are working on a video celebrating the event and acknowledging the hard work of all their classmates.

“As excited as our five students were, they always kept in mind that they were collaborative workers, and there were 45 other kids back home who deserved recognition for the phenomenal accomplishment,” Wood said.

Students recorded messages from Foster, Nye and Tyson, all congratulating all the students back home. On Saturday morning, they wrote a script and started putting that video together, Wood said. In the meantime, the kids and their teacher put together a quick trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUr3ttZYyQA ) for the full video.

“Our students walked away from this experience inspired to continue dreaming big and working hard in their projects,” Wood said. “But most importantly they saw how their skills can be used to do good for others. The first project they wanted to tackle was something giving recognition to all of the other students who collaborated and help those students share in the experience.”

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