April 27, 2012

Capital Region BOCES class wins 'Speak Truth to Power' video contest

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. April 26, 2012 - A documentary by Capital Region BOCES students inspired by Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai will be featured Sunday during the Tribeca Film Festival.

Created by students at Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, the documentary captured the grand prize in the first-ever Speak Truth to Power Video Contest sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and New York State United Teachers.

An off-shoot of the Speak Truth to Power human rights curriculum introduced to New York schools in December 2010, the contest encouraged students statewide to make a three-to-six minute video that focused on a human rights defender whose work helped trigger change.

The BOCES students based their video on the work of Maathai, an environmentalist, political activist and founder of the Green Belt Movement, who was instrumental in the planting of 30 million trees throughout her native Kenya as part of an effort to replenish weary soil for agriculture and to provide firewood. The winning contest video will be screened at 3 p.m. Sunday at SVA Theater, 333 West 23rd St., between 8th and 9th avenues. It can also be viewed online at:

(Note - Other contest winners and links to their videos are listed below.)

"The Speak Truth to Power video contest clearly demonstrates the transformative nature of this curriculum," said John Heffernan, director of Speak Truth to Power. "By telling stories of courageous human rights defenders through film, students are empowered to assert control and ownership over their educational experience."

Established in conjunction with NYSUT, the statewide curriculum includes 18 teacher-developed lesson plans for students in grades 6-12 based on RFK Center President Kerry Kennedy's book, Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing the World.

"Robert F. Kennedy's message that we all have a responsibility to stand up and speak out against inequality and oppression is as critical today as when he first delivered it," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "This video contest engages students in that lesson and offers them the opportunity to experience, firsthand, what it means to be a defender against human rights violations. The ultimate goal is to create a new generation of human rights defenders."

While studying Maathai, the BOCES students discovered a project she started called Mottainai, a recycling program aimed at reducing the widespread use and disposal of plastic bags in Africa, which were often ingested by animals, endangering their lives.

The BOCES students gathered more than 1,000 plastic bags and were then taught by their teacher, Ann Villet, and teaching assistant Sandie Carner-Shafran, how to reuse them by cutting and crocheting them into handbags. The students discovered that recycling the bags, kept them from ending up in landfills, where they otherwise would have taken years to degrade, releasing toxins into the air and soil.

"As educators, we have a fundamental responsibility to teach our students that a socially just world is one that affords all individuals and groups fair treatment and equal access to society's opportunities," said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, who oversees the union's social justice program. "This video contest not only educates students about those courageous human rights defenders who bring about change, it enables them to effect change themselves."

The following is a list of the other video contest winners and their film subjects:

High School

1st Place
Kailash Satyarthi
Alden High School

2nd Place
Harry Wu
Alden High School

3rd Place
Muhammad Yunus
Dunkirk Senior High School

Middle School

1st Place
Asma Jahangir
Springville Griffith-Institute

2nd Place
Marian Wright Edelman

3rd Place (Tie)

Jamie Nabozny

Natasa Kandic
Springville Griffith-Institute

NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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