Here’s the scene: two sisters, Rosa and Donatella, meet in a barren field on a windy Sicilian winter’s day. The year is 1895, and Rosa has made a decision that will forever change both of their lives:
“I must leave to live my American dream!”
“Oh, don’t leave, Rosa!”
“But I must. You’ll have to do without me, dear sister. I’ll write to let you know how I find America so that, one day, you might join me.”
Rosa and Donatella are played by Wildwood 10th grader Talya C. and 9th grader Carly R. and the Scilian field is actually….a softball diamond at Stoner Park, a few blocks from Wildwood’s Middle and Upper Campus.
Talya and Carly, along with a third partner, 9th grader Kevin F., are students in Laura Forsythe’s Division Three visual arts elective. This is their response to an assignment: write and produce a short film that depicts an immigrant experience during the late 19th Century industrialization period in the U.S.
“The arts connections are clear,” says Forsythe. “As part of their year-long visual arts elective, the students are practicing the elements of filmmaking. Right now most are in pre-production: storyboarding their ideas, identifying locations and creating a shooting schedule.”
On this day Talya, Carly, and Kevin are ahead of the curve as I join them on their filming excursion to Stoner Park. As they set up their tripod and video camera, the students reflect on the project’s deeper connection to their learning in other classes.
The film project, Kevin tells me, is designed to complement students’ recently completed Division Three humanities ‘Suitcase of Dreams’ history project. “We had to research the ‘push’ reasons,” says Kevin, “for why someone like Rosa would leave Italy during the time along with the ‘pull’ reasons for why she would come to the U.S. This is what we’re filming today.”
The film project also illuminates much of what Wildwood values about project based learning. Students are prompted to express and interpret aspects of what they are learning in both humanities and visual arts through storytelling and close collaboration with peers.
Future scenes, according to students, will include Rosa’s journey to America and the challenges she faces once she arrives. For now, the group prepares for their final shot of the day. Talya checks and reminds her partners of their lines, which she has stored….on her smartphone. Rosa and Donatella will soon be parted, but Rosa’s life in America is about to begin, with all the details provided by three Wildwood students.