Sixth Grade Walks the Red Carpet for TED!
South Orange Middle School Rolls Out the Red Carpet for the premiere of TED!, The Epic Documentary, a film created by and starring SOMS Sixth Graders.
South Orange Middle School became a Hollywood Premiere Palace on Thursday to celebrate TED! The Epic Documentary, a history project conceived of by a group of last year’s SOMS sixth graders and carried out by a much larger contingent of this year’s sixth grade class. In the entry to Sterling Hall there was an honest-to-goodness red carpet and red velvet roping; there was a phalanx of parent paparazzi and there were, most especially, students in their finest duds walking the red carpet looking very grown up and very excited.
Social Studies teacher Caroline Pew and her class embarked this spring on a documentary in the style of “The Century,” the six-part Peter Jennings documentary that explores the America of the 1900s. “After getting to know these kids, I thought, We have to do it,” a beaming Pew said after the premiere Thursday.
And do it they did. Over several weeks, the students chose their parts, researched and wrote them, designed and created sets, gathered costumes and began filming a four-part documentary. The result is an ambitious 90+-minute movie that covers American History from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl to Woodstock and the resignation of Richard Nixon.
There are many remarkable moments in the film, but among the most moving are the group scenes, be it a crowd of angry, worried
citizens storming a bank after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 (look closely and someone might notice a resemblance to SOMS’ doors); or a unit of soldiers waiting anxiously in their boat to storm a Normandy Beach; or citizens gasping in wide-eyed wonder at the flash of light that is Sputnik passes overhead; or a slew of peace protesters from the Vietnam Era running in slow motion across what just might be the bridge to the South Orange Swimming Pool; or the enthusiastic party of Woodstock hippies rocking out to Jimi Hendrix.
But the students also proved remarkably adept in on-camera interviews, playing everything from the anonymous and powerless to the most famous folk of the era: Depression bums; down-and-out farmers; Winston Churchill;, FDR; depressed, cold wartime soldiers; a proud Tuskegee Airman; a ‘50s housewife in pearls; Jackie Robinson, baseball cap askew; a pitch-perfect John F. Kennedy, imploring his citizens not to ask what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country; a bearded Fidel Castro speaking of his worry and a tearful Walter Cronkite telling the nation that Kennedy has died; stunned Kent State students, talking about the shooting of one of their own; Woodward and Bernstein, hunting down the story of Watergate; and a grim-faced Richard Nixon resigning the presidency.
"I wanted them to be in the shoes,’’ Pew said of her strategy to make history meaningful. “I was in 9/11. These moments change people lives.”
Of course, great teachers also change people’s lives. And there is no doubt from the cheer that went up for Pew when she appeared before her students, resplendent in a long apricot gown, that they know and appreciate her efforts on their behalf. She gave the love right back. “You are phenomenal,’’ she told them. And they cheered some more.