Middle and high school students have the chance to win scholarships of up to $5,000 – and additional money for their educators and schools – by entering the fourth annual IWitness Video Challenge hosted by USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education.
And starting this year in Illinois, participation in the IWitness Video Challenge will count toward the service-learning requirement that every student must complete in order to graduate high school.
Kicking off Dec. 13, the Challenge, which will award $10,000 in prizes overall, invites students to positively contribute to their communities, and complete an IWitness activity that involves submitting a short video explaining how they were inspired through testimony to make a positive impact. The IWitness Video Challenge is open to all secondary school students in the United States and Canada (except for Quebec) who attend public, private or home schools. Participants can access resources and submit entries at iwitness.usc.edu.
Helping to make this year’s Challenge the most successful yet are two organizational partners – Ford Motor Co., which is sponsoring the event as part of its commitment to innovative educational outreach; and Discovery Education, the leading provider of digital content and professional development for K-12 classrooms, which will administer the Challenge and help maximize reach and impact through its deep partnerships with school systems, administrators and educators worldwide and unparalleled experience in implementing education-based programs that improve student engagement and achievement.
The contest is based on one of the more than 70 activities found in IWitness, USC Shoah Foundation’s free educational website (iwitness.usc.edu), which brings the human stories from the Institute’s Visual History Archive – the world’s largest repository of testimony from survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides – to teachers and their students via engaging multimedia-learning activities.
The IWitness Video Challenge first presents students with selected testimonies from survivors who demonstrate what is possible when we make the courageous choice to act. Then, the Challenge takes students through the steps necessary to identify a problem, determine how to contribute to solving that problem, and how to create a video that captures their efforts and impact on helping to solve a problem in their community. Students will then be instructed on how to use the built-in video editor in IWitness to construct, edit and submit their one- to four-minute video project. No prior video editing knowledge is needed to participate.
Teachers who have participated in the Challenge in the past will notice updates to the contest rules as well as to IWitness. For instance, this year it is no longer incumbent upon classroom teachers to select one entry from their class; they now can submit as many projects as they find qualified.
Upgrades made to IWitness’s functionality in the past year include mini lessons – which can be completed in under half an hour – the ability for students to download their work and new rubrics that provide guidelines for teachers to follow when grading their students’ completed IWitness activities.
The prizes will be distributed as follows:
• The student who created the National Winning Entry will receive a US $5,000 scholarship. Second place will receive a $1,000 scholarship; third place, a $500 scholarship.
• The educator associated with the National Winning Entry will receive a $1,000 grant awarded in the form of a check, to be used to implement change in his/her school.
• The school or organization that hosted the IWitness group/class associated with the National Winning Entry will receive a $2,500 grant awarded in the form of a check, to be used to implement change in their community.
• The winning student, along with an educator and parent/guardian, will be flown to Los Angeles to screen their film at USC Shoah Foundation.
“Not only does the IWitness Video Challenge enable students to link their voices to those in the Visual History Archive who inspired them to act, but it also teaches them digital skills that are so important for students today,” said USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen D. Smith.
The 2016 winners, a trio of eighth-graders from New Jersey, created a poetry group that enabled students at their school to express their hardships and appreciation for one another. They found inspiration for their project after listening to Holocaust survivor Donia Blumenfeld Clenman recite her powerful poetry in her testimony.
Maya Montell, Allison Vandal and Caroline Waters of Readington Middle School in Raritan, N.J. created the Poets Undercover Guild (PUG), encouraging their friends and associates to write each other poems pertaining to the trials of middle-school life.
One of the first recipients of a poem was a sixth-grade girl who was being bullied.
“She felt really alone at that time, and she was just kind of depressed,” Caroline said. “When she read it, she felt empowered, like she wasn’t going to let the bullies tell her what to do.”
The winner of the inaugural Challenge in 2014 was Ruth Hernandez of Philadelphia. Now a senior at Esperanza Academy Charter High School, Hernandez produced a video – called “Voices of Our Journey” – based on the topic of immigration.
“When I started my video for the IWitness Video Challenge I had my mind set on making a change, but it was I who was changed through the whole process,” she said. “I remember just trying to understand how I would feel if I knew I would never see my parents again or if I had to leave everything I know. … I learned the importance of not being afraid of recognizing oppression and taking action to stop it.”
USC Shoah Foundation founder Steven Spielberg launched the inaugural IWitness Video Challenge in 2013. The Challenge was designed around the same premise as Schindler’s List, that one person can make a difference. As Spielberg said at the time of the inaugural launch, “We can use IWitness to show the power of random acts of kindness, the significance of contributing to communities and the very idea that the best way to teach empathy is with examples of it so that maybe someday kindness will be a natural reflex.”
“The effectiveness of IWitness is well documented,” said Dr. Kori Street, director of education for USC Shoah Foundation. “Students who have engaged with our free educational website IWitness are significantly less likely to believe in stereotypes and are over 90 percent more likely to stand up against hateful stereotyping.”
Educators interested in signing up their students for the IWitness Video Challenge must submit entries by May 5, 2017 at iwitness.usc.edu. The winners will be announced on or around June 13, 2017.
For more information and complete rules, visit iwitness.usc.edu.