Fourth Graders as Filmmakers: A New Community Storytelling Project Launches on Campus

posted March 21, 2016 

Among the Lakota people, storytelling is a sacred form of communication. Over centuries, elders have passed history, tradition, and culture on to their children and grandchildren through the telling of stories. They ensured the survival of essential community knowledge through storytelling, transferring it from generation to generation. 

Today, fourth graders at Red Cloud and Our Lady of Lourdes are learning about the power of storytelling in their own lives—and for their own generation. With support from the Better Way Foundation and the Indian Mission School Network, the fourth grade classrooms are launching “Our Community Story,” a creative, cross-generational project that will allow students to use video interviews, visual art, music and more to tell their own community story. Over the course of the next several months, fourth graders will produce a short film reflecting on the theme “Life Then and Now,” exploring the rich history that exists on the Pine Ridge Reservation. 

The project commenced this winter when students conducted their first video interviews with elders who visited their classrooms. They asked their own questions and learned what life was like when their grandparents’ generation was growing up more than a half-century ago. 

“Today is a lot different,” said community member Sonia Weston, as she recounted her childhood playing outside and running in the hills with her cousins. “You young kids are a lot more into the technology side of things, so it’s a lot different than how it was back then. We really enjoyed the outdoors.” 

The Heritage Center’s Museum Educator Audrey Jacobs is helping to direct the project at Red Cloud and is noticing benefits of the project from a variety of objectives. “The kids fell into the stories as they listened to the words of their elders and grandparents—it showed the power of storytelling. The grandparents have been wonderful and are enthusiastic about sharing wisdom with their young people,” she said and she scrolled through footage of the interviews. “’This project will give students a chance to take part in carrying on their heritage through both traditional forms and twenty-first century media; they are so excited to make their own movies! ” 

This spring, the fourth graders will continue to make and collect artifacts to include in their final film. They will interview more community leaders, including a number of influential artists who use their own work to tell historical and contemporary stories. Students will also create their own art to integrate into the film through a focused workshop with The Heritage Center team. 

“Together we will take a look at pieces from The Heritage Center’s collection for inspiration, and then help guide our students in developing their own work for their films,” said Audrey. “They can use written text, visual art, music, dance, photography, maps—whatever gets them excited to express themselves!” 

Once the student interviews and artwork are complete, students will narrate their own thoughts and reflections about their community’s story, also integrating them into the film. Red Cloud’s technology teacher Jessye Stein will teach them how to use the necessary video and recording equipment and will also guide them through the process of editing the final film.

“We’ll be here to help them with the technology, but this is really their story to tell—their reflection of their own community’s history,” said Jessye. “This project will really allow them to once again turn the tables and teach us.” 

Later this spring, Red Cloud will host a public gathering to screen the final short film collection and give everyone—including teachers, parents and families, artists, tribal leaders, and others—an opportunity to share in the community storytelling process. And the fourth graders are already looking forward to the experience. 

“This is much more than a classroom project—these students are gaining insight into their culture in a new way, and some of them may even one day go on to work in film. It feels right that their first experience in movie making is based on such culturally significant learning,” said Audrey. “I think the story they tell will really resonate with the whole community and I know they can’t wait to share it.”


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Photos © 2016 Red Cloud Indian School, Inc.