A group of juniors and seniors at Denton High School gather in a circle to practice an exercise called “Zoom.” The objective: Get a ball of energy around the circle as soon as possible.
Along the way, designated students are tasked with disrupting or stopping the ball of energy from movement.
In many ways, the exercise is a metaphor for life. Tim Sanchez, physics teacher and sponsor for Denton High’s Peer Assistance Leadership and Service (PALS) chapter, said the lesson conveyed in the exercise is two-fold.
Part of it is for one to keep his or her eye on the goal and the other half is realizing the necessity of interconnection to accomplish that goal.
“You are powerful as an individual and you are more powerful as a community, and if we get that in place, that’s the point,” Sanchez shares with students as they practice.
The ball doesn’t get back to him until every student buys into the idea that they’re important to his life, he tells the students.
The Zoom exercise is one of several that students from the Denton High PALS class will lead at this weekend’s sixth annual Campecine Film Festival, being held at the University of North Texas’ Crumley Hall Conference Room. The event, which is done in collaboration with UNT, will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with a screening of digital stories produced by the Denton High students on their life experiences.
The student-produced digital stories set the stage for the day’s discussions and activities. Also being featured at the event are Will Richey and Alejandro Perez Jr., diversity educators and spoken-word artists. According to officials with UNT, Richey and Perez teach youth across the area “emotional literacy” through art forms including visual, poetry and music.
The purpose of the activities being presented Saturday are to create camaraderie among attendees, said Mariela Nuñez-Janes, an associate professor in the anthropology department at UNT who will assist in leading a digital storytelling workshop for Denton High students annually.
“It’s a festival, but it’s unique in that the focus is on the story,” she said. “The story is then a way to engage the audience in interactive activities that are led by the high school students.
“The focus on the activities, some ... are to discuss the activities raised in the films, illustrate some of the ideas, feelings or sentiments raised in the film, how they are ingrained and why people may react to them.”
In preparation for the film festival, about 30 students from Denton High PALS, earlier this semester, participated in a weeklong workshop in which they came together in a circle to discuss life experiences. They took those life experiences, and with the help of UNT students, they created narratives and scripts of those experiences.
The high school students finished the week producing 23 digital stories they share through a series of photographs and video accompanied by music. In that time, they spend two days at UNT, learning how to use the software for editing their digital stories.
The stories are personal. They illustrate life experiences, family, friends, religion, highs, lows, loss, challenges, fears, concerns, journey of finding one’s self, what the students are thankful for and what they’re hopeful for.
Of the digital stories produced, between four to five of the stories will be screened Saturday, Nuñez-Janes said.
Over the last eight years, Nuñez-Janes and Sanchez have collaborated with the PALS chapter at Denton High to put on the digital storytelling workshop.
Maya Nixon, a senior who will attend the festival for her second year, describes the event as “very diverse.”
“You learn a lot about how to treat others and just how to learn to respect others and who they are and different opinions and values,” she said. “I think it’s really cool as PALS, the activities we did during the year, we have a chance to direct ... during Campecine.”
Manuel Munoz, a senior who will experience the festival for the first time this weekend, said he’s looking forward to just taking in the atmosphere of the event.
Sanchez calls the Campecine Film Festival “one of the most refreshing days” he spends all year. It’s a day to forget the stresses life brings, he explained.
“It’s like a cleansing for me. It’s just a really fantastic day,” Sanchez said. “We’ve had people go in and say it changed their whole outlook on life. It diverted their path.”
Everything the students have learned in PALS throughout the year comes together at the event, he said. The students, Sanchez said, are training for something and now all they can see is the training.
He likened it to manufacturers having a hard time imagining the plane they are constructing taking flight. The festival, he said, is like experiencing that plane in flight.
“I really enjoy [Campecine],” Sanchez said. “I enjoy watching [it] click like ‘OK, that’s what you’ve been talking about.’”
Sanchez and Nuñez-Janes said the film festival derives from migrant farm camps where workers expressed what they were going through and expressed messages through plays and performances. It was also a way to educate farm workers of their rights, Nuñez-Janes said.
“What’s been really interesting is that we’re applying the ideas of a film fest that is more rooted in the Latina and Mexican community and applying that to a more diverse group of students,” Nuñez-Janes said. “The festival is an experience. You have to be willing to open yourself and trust the students and be led by them and experience what they’re trying to convey through the film, the digital stories and activities.”
According to a UNT website on the festival, Campecine was founded in 2007 in California and Indiana and is conducted in areas across the country in partnerships with universities and community organizations.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.