Educator spotlight: Mr Albert Celis on using film to empower his students
Last school year was a difficult chapter for many students, parents, and teachers: COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges to education and our society. Students returned to the classroom after almost two years of distance learning.
It was not easy to find meaningful resources, lessons, and stories of global human rights defenders that students would enjoy and learn from – that also would give them an opportunity to use their voices – but Mr. Albert Celis made it possible. Celis is a social studies teacher at Thomas Starr King Middle School, Environmental STEAM Magnet, in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Mr. Celis used the Speak Truth to Power human rights education program, inspired by Kerry Kennedy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that combines storytelling and interactive learning to provide the next generation with the concrete knowledge they will need to create change and advance human rights. Mr. Celis used the lessons to help his students become human rights and social justice advocates, have a voice, bring awareness, and inspire them to create their own films on issues that matter to them.
Students showcased 25 amazing and powerful films to more than 1,500 students, teachers, parents and Thomas Starr King Middle School and LAUSD community members at the Speak Truth To Power Virtual Film Festival via Zoom. One of the films, created by eighth-grader Soryn Cline on reproductive rights, was a finalist in the RFK Speak Truth To Power video competition; it was shown at the world famous Tribeca Festival in June.
Mr. Celis tells his students that their voices and stories matter. They are the leaders, role models and human rights/social justice warriors of today. Many have experienced social, political, and economic issues. Students genuinely care about the environment, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights, constitutional rights and more.
Working on their film projects was an act of love, and it was empowering. Students collaborated, created connections, and gave honest feedback to their classmates on ways to improve and tell their powerful stories. They researched their RFK human rights defenders and issues, learned valuable lessons, were heard, supported their classmates, and united for human rights and social justice.
For most students it was their first film they’d ever made and shown to a larger audience. Mr. Celis believes it’s important to not just tell students their work is amazing but that showcasing it makes a huge difference. It also inspires other students to see what is possible, and it lets them know that their stories and voices matter. No matter your age or grade, youth have a powerful voice in creating positive change in their communities, cities, states, the nation and the world.
Mr. Celis plans to continue using the lessons and curriculum from RFK Speak Truth To Power and have another film festival this school year. He encourages other teachers to use the lessons in a way that works for their students. His students from Thomas Starr King middle school were definitely proud of their films, lessons, and accomplishments. They are the historians, writers, artists, story tellers, film makers, critical thinkers, and leaders of today and tomorrow.
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