When Caitlin Lanterman and Madison Collins teamed up last fall to work on a video project for their American government class, they wanted to pick a topic that resonated with them.
They settled on an issue that had dominated the headlines the preceding summer: border security, and the Trump administration’s short-lived family separation policy. The students were drawn to this issue, Lanterman said, by “the moral issue that we had with that.”
The Mountain View High School seniors’ project went national. It’s among one 150 winners in C-SPAN’s annual student video documentary competition, StudentCam. Representatives from the cable public affairs network came to Meridian Wednesday for an assembly honoring the students.
Lanterman and Collins were chosen from a field of more than 6,300 student entrants. C-SPAN staffers reviewed more than 2,900 entries, prompted by a broad question: “What does it mean to be an American?” Nearly a tenth of these entries focused on immigration.
The winning entries have to survive three levels of judging, said Doug Hemmig of C-SPAN. It’s a time-consuming process for staff. But for a network that chronicles the politics of the present, the process is a reminder that engaged, energetic young people are ready to shape the future — students like Collins, who plans to study criminal justice at Boise State University; and Lanterman, who plans to study business and economics at the University of Idaho.
“This country is in a good place,” Hemmig said during Wednesday’s assembly.
The students’ video mixes the national debate with local perspectives. Clips of President Trump are interspersed with interviews from a Treasure Valley citizenship ceremony. Attending this ceremony — along with immigrants from more than 50 nations — was a moving part of the project, Collins said.
“It was a cool experience,” she said.
They didn’t expect to win. Then Collins got an email from C-SPAN, which said the students had received an honorable mention and a $250 award.
“I was like, ‘Dude, did you know we got money?’” Collins recalled telling Lanterman.
The check is on the way, Hemmig told Collins and Lanterman Wednesday. In the meantime, they posed with certificates from C-SPAN and the Idaho congressional delegation. They joined their classmates on a tour of one of C-SPAN’s 45-foot buses, which traverses the nation and serves as a soundproof rolling studio.
And the class needled their American government teacher, Bill Driscoll, after Collins pointed out that the winning video only got a “B” in class.
Still, Driscoll said, the video did what he hoped it would do. It took on an important topical issue.
In American government class, he said, the curriculum doesn’t change much. The framework, the separation of powers between three branches of government, remains a constant. The best way to make the curriculum resonate is to tie it to current events. So Driscoll encourages his students to take on controversial issues.
“It’s exciting,” he said.