Award-winning news team...again; Roosevelt's 'Kid Witness News' earns Panasonic award for second
The "Kid Witness News" program has been a staple of the Weehawken classroom for 17 years. It is a program originating in Weehawken that allows students to prepare their own television newscasts from every aspect of the production - writing, editing, filming, interviewing - all done by the students. Weehawken seventh grade teacher Jon Hammer conceived the program in his classroom in 1983 and later introduced it to schools throughout the area. The program has now been expanded to include more than 150 schools, with a participation total of more than 50,000 students throughout the United States and Canada. For the past 10 years, as part of the program, Panasonic, which helps to sponsor the Kid Witness News program throughout the country, holds the New Vision Awards, which honors the best of the presentations made by Kid Witness News teams. And for the second straight year, children from Eileen Hochman's sixth grade academically talented class at Roosevelt School came away with one of the top honors, called the Spotlight Awards. The class' presentation of "Land of Tears, Land of Hope," was given the New Vision Award in the category of Multiculturalism. The students received their awards at the annual presentation, held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on May 23. The Weehawken students were the only honorees from New Jersey. Students from California, Illinois, Florida, Texas and New York also were honored. Storm Field, the weatherman on WWOR-TV UPN Channel 9 in Secaucus, was the master of ceremonies for the evening. Later that night, while doing his newscast, Field featured the students from Roosevelt School on live television. There are eight categories for presentations: Dare to Dream, Local Hero, Multiculturalism, Documentary, News, News Commentary, Public Service Announcement and Science and Technology. Each class is asked to make a 15-minute film in one of the categories, to be judged by a series of panelists, which included famed Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan and WWOR-TV anchorwoman Brenda Blackmon. Last year, Hochman's class won in the Local Hero category, doing a feature on two Weehawken firefighters, one of whom had donated a kidney to save the life of the other. This year, the students made a presentation on immigration, the trials and tribulations of being a newcomer to the United States and whether or not it was right to allow new people to enter the country. It was a topic that hit home to a lot of the students in a class with very diverse backgrounds. Three of the students were immigrants: Carlos Palacios, who came to the United States with his family from Ecuador in 1993, Victor Ledesma, who arrived from the Dominican Republic five years ago and Sunair Iqbal, who came from Pakistan six years ago. Also, many of the students in the class had parents or grandparents that were born in a foreign land. Some of the nations represented in the class included Puerto Rico, Italy, Taiwan, England, Algeria and Guatemala. So, it was only natural that the class should focus on such a familiar topic. "We were open to suggestions on what they should do for a topic," said Hammer, who oversaw the production of the 14-minute videotape that was used in the presentation. "They all had quality ideas." "But immigration was something that they thought they could sink their teeth into," Hochman said. The Elian Gonzalez situation also enlightened the students' views on the subject matter. "Honestly, immigration is a topic that isn't talked about much with kids our age," said Katie Gross, who served as one of the anchor people in the project. "Until Elian Gonzalez, it really wasn't a big issue at all. We don't think about it much. But then you realize how important it is." First person
First, the students in the class who were immigrants described their own personal experiences. "We spoke why our parents came here, giving a little bit of the history," said Ledesma. "We're proud of the sacrifice that our parents made." Palacios told of how his family had left other family members behind in Ecuador in order to find a new life in America. The students interviewed a series of people and asked their views on immigration. They also went to an immigration placement service in New York and saw how that service went to help newcomers to the country. Joseph Cimino was one of the students who served as an interviewer. He asked Zarmina Alpar, a native of Afghanistan, about what it was like to come to America. "She said that she didn't like the way women were treated in her country," Cimino said. "That they have to wear a cover over their heads and face, that they weren't treated fairly." John Burnett interviewed an immigration attorney. "Almost everyone in America comes from someone who was an immigrant at one time," Burnett said. "Some people say that we should close the borders and not allow anyone else in. But if that happened a long time ago, then none of our families would be here." Part of the planning for the project included each student doing a family tree to discover their origins and how they arrived in the United States. "They all made a chart to show where their family came from and how they got here," Hochman said. For example, Cimino found out that his grandfather, who came to the United States from Italy, was the local blacksmith in Weehawken. After doing the intense interviewing and filming, the editing was next. "People don't realize how much work goes into this project," Hammer said. "The editing is not easy. It takes hours and hours of preparation. For example, the students had to come in to do editing at 7:30 a.m., for special editing classes. They spent 10 to 12 hours on editing alone. They really took this project seriously." The final product also enabled the students to form their own opinions - some that conflicted with the ideas of their parents. "I think that the borders should remain open, but my dad doesn't think so," Cimino said. "I was able to pick a side because of this project." "I think the borders should remain open," Leandra Rodriguez said. "Because of the many different aspects of culture that is offered by people who come to this country, like food, music, clothing." Hochman is always so impressed with the way the students present themselves. "I don't get spoiled by what they do," Hochman said. "Because you never know what's going to occur. These children work so hard, but it doesn't mean that they're always going to win. In the past, they've submitted excellent tapes and didn't win. But it is unbelievable what they've been able to do for the past two years and I'm very proud of them." "They've become so technologically advanced and more creative over the years," Hammer said. "You lose sight that these are kids, 10 and 11 years old. I'm just so proud of what they've done. They had such a quality theme and presentation that I really thought they had a great chance to win. I was very pleased with the way it came out." Obviously, so were the judges. For the second straight year. And as these students move on, what does it mean for the future? "I felt some pressure to repeat this year," said Emily Purcell, "but it's going to be nothing compared to what the fifth grade now feels, having to compete after winning two years in a row." Sometimes, it gets very hard to keep up with the tradition of excellence. Those fifth graders better start realizing that fact right now, before the next Kid Witness News New Vision Awards are presented.