THEIR LIFE'S WORK
by Erich Van Dussen
INTERIOR – CLASSROOM - DAY: Our scene opens in a New Rochelle, NY, high school. Students are at their desks, eager to get to work on their latest project.
If modern teens are rarely seen without a smartphone, Anthony Stirpe ’98 is helping his students appreciate those devices in an utterly new way.
He’s injected an old screenwriting course taught at his New Rochelle high school with new, high-tech life, while encouraging his students to view literature and poetry through a different lens. The lens found in iPad and iPhone cameras, to be exact.
“It’s interesting to explore the different things you can do with technology you carry around every day,” he says.
CLOSE-UP ON: Stirpe’s students using iPhones and iPads in tandem with tripods, lens and microphone adapters and portable light kits – as they shoot a short film.
Teaching a filmmaking course once required a hefty equipment budget: The cameras weren’t cheap, and film didn’t exactly grow on trees. But the digital image technology packed into smartphones and tablets is capable of much more than the impromptu videos we post to social media. Hollywood filmmakers are discovering the freedom of shooting with these consumer tools – and Stirpe figured his students could as well.
When he heard administrators aimed to eliminate a scriptwriting class, “I said, ‘Let me try to do an iPad film course’ – although I didn’t even know it was possible,” he recalls. “They said yes, which surprised me even more.”
The class began with donations of used iPhones and iPads, but the Apple corporation itself agreed to contribute a few newer models – including units capable of shooting in 4D resolution, the highest picture quality available to filmmakers today.
FADE TO: A montage of short films, all produced, directed, and performed by Stirpe’s students.
Although Stirpe’s class is part of the school’s English curriculum, he’s quick to dispel any concerns about how videos and movies are replacing the written word in modern culture – in his class, at least. “It’s all grounded in writing and literature,” he says, noting that many of the film projects are derived from assigned poems.
Earlier this year, for instance, the teens were tasked with developing films from Ella Wheeler Wilcox’ “Solitude,” featuring the classic line “Laugh, and the world laughs with you/Weep, and you weep alone.” One project implanted the poem’s themes into a melodrama about cliques and peer pressure.
“The kids end up developing a real connection to the literature without even realizing it,” he says.
CUT TO: A split screen showing varied headlines and awards ceremonies recognizing Stirpe’s efforts.
The film, tech, and education worlds have all taken notice. In addition to in-kind software and hardware donations, the district’s proximity to New York City has enabled collaborations with the Manhattan Edit Workshop and the International Film School of New York. In March, the Wall Street Journal sent a reporter to the class to write a story – and to be interviewed on camera by students. In June, Stirpe received a national curriculum award from the International Society for Technology in Education, the biggest organization in the world for what he does, and the Center for Digital Education. Recent honors include a Digital Content and Curriculum Achievement Award for 2016 and a 2016-17 Program of Excellence Award from the New York State English Council.
“I don’t think of myself as a pioneer, but I really think this is the future of English education,” he says. “You’re going to see more and more of it in classrooms. For sure.”
ZOOM OUT. CUT.
Erich Van Dussen is a freelance writer and film critic. He lives in Rochester, NY.