Winners from left: Deven Loska, Grace Nesbit and Mia Stitt with KPMS teacher Vicky Schauer. Photo: Anne Nesbit

In recent weeks, four Key Peninsula Middle School students, Madison Robbins, Deven Loska, Grace Nesbit and Mia Stitt, received honors for their creative photography and filmmaking skills in two regional contests.

Madison Robbins, an eighth grader at KPMS, won third place in her age group for a photo submitted to Pierce County Library’s Our Own Expressions contest for teens. Her photo of a dock at sunset was snapped near Point Defiance. “I didn’t expect to win,” Madison said. But after a teacher suggested entering the contest, “I thought why not?” she said.

Madison’s mom, Danielle Robbins, said her daughter has always been artistic, fond of writing and drawing, but in the past year or two photography also captured her interest. After receiving a camera as a Christmas gift, Madison took the photo while out walking. “I encouraged her to enter. It’s her first contest. It gave her validation,” Robbins said.

Pierce County Library created Our Own Expressions with teens like Madison in mind. “The contest began with writing, then expanded to art and photography,” said Mary Getchell, marketing and communications director for Pierce County Library. “Photography is important to students to express their creativity.”

This spring, KPMS teacher Vicky Schauer taught her class about the Holocaust as part of the eighth-grade curriculum. Afterward, students were assigned to research more about the lives of the individuals in the books they had read.

This inspired eighth-grader Deven Loska to draw portraits of several Holocaust survivors. Her work earned her Honorable Mention in the Writing, Art & Film Contest at the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle.

Classmates Grace Nesbit and Mia Stitt responded to what they learned in Schauer’s class by producing a brief documentary film telling the story of Carla Peperzak. Peperzak, a Dutch resistance fighter, disguised herself as a German nurse to rescue Jews from trains, found hiding places for those who managed to escape, published an underground newspaper, and created fake identification papers and ration cards. The eighth-graders’ film received first place for their age group in the Holocaust Center contest.

Creating a documentary went far above and beyond the class assignment. “We went to Mrs. Schauer’s room every day at lunch for two weeks to work on it,” Grace said.

“Mrs. Schauer helped us a lot. She helped outline each slide and helped with the filming we were doing. She connected us with other teachers. We couldn’t have done it without her,” Mia said.

Schauer, who has taught Key Peninsula eighth graders about the Holocaust since 2007, was happy to help. “When Grace and Mia came to me with an idea for entering a film, I was thrilled. We spent many hours storyboarding, shooting scenes, writing scripts and learning more about the subject of their film. Then we reached out to resources such as Garrett Morrow (KPFD 16 Fire Chief Morrow’s 19-year-old son), to help edit, teacher Gary Alsin to help with the graphics, and teacher Richard Miller to compress the film file. As this whole production took place during state testing, it was very challenging to meet our deadline. They persisted. Just like the subject of their film,” Schauer said.

The film ends with a scene of soldiers in boots transforming to feet of students walking down a school hallway. “We wanted to take the idea of the Holocaust and compare it to something today. Bullies single people out. We wanted to show that it is really quite similar,” Grace said. “The message is that one voice can change things. Standing up can have an impact.”

The event served a dual purpose of honoring winners and celebrating the signing of a new bill in the Washington Legislature that supports Holocaust education. A Holocaust survivor oversaw the ceremony and gave the KPMS students their award. “Henry Friedman was Master of Ceremonies and presented the award to the students, and also autographed copies of his new book for the students. Mia and Grace then were allowed to screen their film. The girls were fantastic representatives of all of our eighth-grade students,” Schauer said.

Having the students’ work acknowledged by a person who had lived through the Holocaust himself was a highlight of the experience. “It was absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a beautiful ceremony with an audience full of Holocaust survivors and their family members. Mia and Grace’s video was shown and they both gave brief speeches,” Mia’s mother Beth Stitt said.

For Grace’s mother, Anne Nesbit, the connections the students made between history and the world around them was crucial. “I am proud that they tied their message to bullying and emphasized that just one person can make a difference. The fact that young people have a voice and that the Holocaust Center for Humanity acknowledged them was not lost,” she said.

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