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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 11:16 pm | Fair 51º


Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press Shines at Film Festival

Current and former students discover themselves — and their potential

Little people, big world. Twelve- and 13-year-olds standing elbow to elbow with seasoned journalists and professional reporters. One by one, stars of the silver screen make their way along the red carpet from microphone to microphone. They look down, they smile and from out of the mouths of pre-teens and teenagers come personal, serious and well-researched questions about the actors’ pasts, their passions and the philanthropies they support.

This year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival marks the sixth time that Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press will ask what inquiring minds want to know.

“The professional journalists come in often with really basic questions about hair types and dresses,” said David Teton-Landis, Santa Barbara Middle School teacher and Teen Press co-adviser. “Our kids come in with both a great attitude and really great questions, and consequently, they get taken seriously and they get respect.”

Fellow Teen Press adviser and social studies teacher John Seigel-Boettner recalls a few years back when actor Brad Pitt came to honor his wife, Angelina Jolie, at the film festival.

“The only press group that he agreed to speak with was us,” Seigel-Boettner said. “The kids asked him about his work in New Orleans (post-Hurricane Katrina), and he was impressed that they knew what he was about.”

Current and past SBMS Teen Press students often remark how the curriculum and the experience makes them better people.

“It’s teaching me how to be more outgoing; less shy,” said Marlon Godlis, a SBMS seventh-grader who is completing his first quarter in Teen Press. “I’ve become a harder worker, and it’s been easier for me to approach people.”

Zoë Plaxco, a SBMS seventh grader, is a two-quarter seasoned veteran. “Teen Press helps build up your self-confidence when you ask complete strangers well-researched questions, and they really get into the interview,” she said.

Teen Press members also put their interview skills to use with Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Teen Press members also put their interview skills to use with Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. (Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press photo)

Since the inception of the SBMS Teen Press five years ago this week, Teton-Landis said he has routinely witnessed quantum leaps in his students’ self-confidence and self-reliance.

“In this process of researching, approaching and engaging adults, the kids learn to listen more, speak more fluidly and think on their feet,” he said.

Former Teen Press member and current Santa Barbara High School sophomore Logan Carmody said the reporting opportunity made him a quick thinker.

“You are encouraged to prepare for whom you’re interviewing, but when the topic starts going elsewhere you need to follow it,” Carmody said. Now, he is the floor director for a locally directed and student-driven live weekly teen magazine show called Santa Barbara Teen News Network. Its format is fast-paced just like Teen Press.

“Logan’s a really good leader,” said Trixie Geyer, program director for sbTNN. “He can take charge, and he’s an independent thinker.”

“Life is moving pretty fast for me in high school, with papers due, club volleyball and extra-curricular stuff,” Carmody said, “so having the Teen Press experience has helped me handle the pace of high school life.”

Santa Barbara High School senior and Santa Barbara Kids Magazine editor-in-chief Katy Villanueva said the magazine project is a direct result of the independent “go for it” spirit she learned while she was a student at SBMS. Wanting to give back to her community, Villanueva spearheaded the magazine as a social enterprise that recycles all advertising profits back into community programs. She said the message is simple: “Any kid can be a change-maker, so don’t be afraid to take your idea and run with it.”

Carmody’s Teen Press classmate Eliana Schiffer recalls ending each of her interviews with the same question, “What do you want your legacy to be?” Now, this SBHS sophomore reflects on that question with deeper meaning.

“I kind of go through life now with a bigger picture of what I want my legacy to be,” Schiffer said. “That I’m honest, that I choose integrity, and that these are the characteristics that I live by.”

As Annette Bening, Christopher Nolan and James Franco are asked about their legacies this week, their young interviewers will be busy creating their own — one well-researched question at a time.

— Larry Good is a Santa Barbara Middle School parent.

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