Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Tough Neighbourood School Reaches Out...
They dropped into class during lunch, between periods, and even after school. One by one, over the course of a day, high school students came into English teacher Anna Price Farago's classroom to choose a sentence, come up with a tune or a rap, and lend their voices to a video for Weston Collegiate Institute's Black History Month assembly.
Wearing borrowed headphones, they sang into Farago's laptop to the tune of generic instrumental music. Farago taped the students, some of whom she was meeting for the first time, with a small camcorder, and edited it using a simple editing program on her computer.
The result is a moving six-minute "Obama video" that meshes their voices with chosen moments in U.S. President Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration speech.
When the school watched it during the assembly 10 days after it was shot, they were moved to tears, said Devante Burey, a Grade 11 student who raps in the video. "Everyone was silent, and some of the teachers were crying," he said. "At Weston, silence means a good thing."
Taking a cue from Will.i.am's "Yes we can," Obama-inspired YouTube hit, Farago posted the video online. In a matter of days, the school was overwhelmed by the response.
"We didn't think it would be as big as it is," said Joel Reid, a Grade 10 student.
A month later, and with thousands of views on YouTube, the students at Weston are basking in the glow of the small project, which has become an anthem of sorts, at a school struggling to redefine its image.
"Weston is located in a bad area, so we get a bad name," said Melissa Williams, in Grade 12.
"Underserved," Farago corrected.
"We're happy that we are able to show that there is a lot of talent, and a lot of smart, dedicated and intelligent people," said Williams.
"So it's a lot of good coming out of a bad – I mean underserved – community."
Their goal now is to get W2W, or "Weston to the White House," and to have Obama view the video. They haven't heard from him yet, but got close. This month, Obama's Burlington-based brother-in-law, Konrad Ng, sent the W2W crew an email after watching it online.
"Thank you for sharing the Obama Song. Maya and I watched the work and thought that it showed terrific initiative and talent from your students – great stuff," wrote Ng.
But he said he had no plans to visit the first family and suggested a more bureaucratic route to get the video to the White House.
The students aren't waiting around. Last week, they were invited to a local recording studio to make a reggae version of the song.
Some hope to use the video to launch careers in music, theatre, or spoken word performance.
"This is just the beginning for some of the students," said Farago.
"What's bigger than the president? I don't know, maybe Oprah?"