When Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. representatives came to an assembly at Immaculate Conception School in Towson last week, students thought it was a formality to politely thank them for their entry in BGE's video contest in which elementary schools regionwide created their own adaptation of BGE's catchy "Wires Down" commercial from 2000.
The students hadn't heard who won the $10,000 grand prize and Principal Madeline Meaney had told library and media specialist Trish Collins, who led the video creation effort, that Immaculate Conception's submission hadn't even received a secondary award.
But when Collins saw BGE's president and CEO Ken DeFontes walk onstage, Collins knew Meaney had been keeping the winner a secret. Moments later, the auditorium erupted when DeFontes announced that Immaculate Conception's video was chosen as the grand prize winner, which carries not just the prize money to be used for a school enrichment program but BGE airs the winning commercial on TV.
The Wires Down campaign aims to help raise awareness of electricity hazards, especially among young children. Immaculate Conception put together a video for BGE's challenge last year, but never reached the finals so this win was especially coveted.
"The students and staff at Immaculate Conception put a love of energy and love into their winning video and they deserve every bit of credit," said Councilman David Marks, who was at the event. "When they didn't win last time, they worked even harder this year and won the prize — which is a great lesson in itself."
This year, BGE awarded a total of $33,000 in prize money in different categories for the 30- to 45-second videos. Students at fellow Towson school Immaculate Heart of Mary earned a $3,000 prize in the Cast and Crew category for their submission.
Immaculate Conception's video this year was shot in the school's onsite television studio used for the school's morning announcements, and creates a fake newscast in which a reporter cuts in with breaking news about a downed wire.
The reporter, played by fifth-grader Ella Cain, 10, of Timonium, began a newscast under the name of Rhonda Burgundy — a play on the ubiquitous movie, "Anchorman." She cuts to her reporter in the field, Tyler Cahill, 11, of Perry Hall, who was on the scene of a downed wire.
The whole video was shot on the students' own personal time with very little rehearsal, Collins said. They were told to "come dressed as adults," assigned parts and props, and then the camera rolled.
Collins said she chose the students based on who would be most comfortable in front of the camera. Some, including Jack Donahue, 8, of Mt. Washington, took easily to their on-camera roles. Collins said Jack continually asked for his props, and insisted that the cast and crew refer to him as his stage name, Kevin.
Only a handful of students participated in making the winning video, but the entire school community was responsible for putting it into contention. The BGE contest rules require members of the school community to vote on the piece for it to be eligible for final judging.
Creating a buzz about the video, Collins said, was easier the second year around. She said the school used social media more this year to collect votes and a regular showing of the video on morning announcements created a lot of excitement around the project.
"The kids would walk through the halls singing the jingle," Collins said. "During those time periods when we ran it, you could hear them all singing along."
Since their victory was announced, the two prominently featured students of the production said they've been recognized in restaurants for their roles in the TV commercial. But because of the efforts of the entire cast and crew, every student at the school will have their creative and artistic talents better recognized.
Immaculate Conception plans to use the prize money on updating its auditorium, which is home to a growing fine arts program and performances, Collins said.
This school year saw the addition of a theater group and dance troupe, while the choir program has grown to include three groups.
"Our thoughts were that the auditorium could use an update in lighting, curtains, getting rid of the squeak in the chairs—whatever we could do to make the facility more updated for the events we do in there," Collins said.
Ella, who uses the auditorium for dance, said she was glad to help secure improvements for it.
"I want to see what else they can do for the auditorium," she said. "When we see it, I'll be proud of what we did as a team."
Tim, who performed on the stage as part of the Christmas show last year, echoed that.
"It's going to be a good feeling," he said.