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Long Reach High students receive honorable mention in nationwide C-SPAN documentary contest

From left, Megan McDonnell, Tori Ely and Katie Park received an honorable mention from C-SPAN for their documentary "From the American Dream to Jail Cells: The treatment of immigrants in America."
From left, Megan McDonnell, Tori Ely and Katie Park received an honorable mention from C-SPAN for their documentary "From the American Dream to Jail Cells: The treatment of immigrants in America." (Jess Nocera / Howard County Times)

Long Reach High School students who created a documentary focusing on immigration in President Donald Trump’s administration earned a nod in a nationwide contest.

Junior Megan McDonnell, 17, and sophomores Tori Ely and Katie Park, both 16, won an honorable mention in this year’s annual C-SPAN national 2019 StudentCam Competition.

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Students nationwide addressed the theme of “What does it mean to be American?” for this year’s competition. The documentaries zeroed in on either a constitutional right, a historic event or a national characteristic where students had to explain how it defines the American experience.

Entitled, “From the American Dream to Jail Cells: The treatment of immigrants in America,” the Long Reach students focused their documentary on immigration and, most specifically, the detention camp in Tornillo, Texas, where immigrant children were displaced. The federal government announced the closing of the camp in January.

“We were going to say, to be an American is to be a hypocrite,” Tori said. “It’s hypocritical to be an American because we used to be so welcoming to immigrants.”

The documentary featured clips from C-SPAN as well as interviews with a Baltimore Sun reporter, an immigration lawyer and the national nonprofit Welcoming America which works to reduce barriers for immigrants.

Howard schools will offer free lunches during spring break.

Katie hopes that after people view the almost 6-minute video that they “hold sympathy for these people” and “feel impacted and want to do something.”

Megan said the documentary “shed light on things” that people may not necessarily know about regarding immigration during Trump’s administration.

C-SPAN has held this nationwide competition for middle and high school students since 2006. Each year, students create short documentaries about a “subject of national importance,” according to a C-SPAN news release.

Among the 2,923 submissions this year from 6,318 students, 17 percent focused on First Amendment rights, 13 percent on equality and/or discrimination, 9 percent on immigration and the rest on a variety of other topics, according to C-SPAN.

The Long Reach students’ submission was one of the 97 honorable mentions this year, with the students also receiving a $250 prize.

Jody Zepp, an American government teacher at Long Reach, annually assigns the documentary project to her Advanced Placement U.S. Government classes.

The assignment is an exercise for her students to prepare for the essay section of the AP U.S. Government exam, Zepp said. It helps students retain information and develop an “anchor argument,” skills that can transfer to the essay section of the exam.

Her students work on the project for approximately four months, with assignments starting almost at the beginning of the school year and wrapping up in mid-January.

Reflecting on Megan, Tori and Katie’s documentary, Zepp said, “The title alone gets you wanting to watch it … the title is very proactive and academic.”

Zepp is “super proud” of the three and said the video is “a great representation of the class and what they are doing.”

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Long Reach High has won honorable mentions in the competition for the past three years, according to Richard Smart, an assistant principal.

A ceremony with C-SPAN to commemorate the honor will be scheduled for either April or May, Zepp said.

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