This fall, the University film department has helped organize an after-school outreach program as part of the YMCA’s Kids’ Korner, held at MacDonough Elementary School in Middletown. The program is run by Wesleyan volunteers and faculty advisors, to facilitate the filmmaking process for MacDonough students.
Public education around the country has been starved for funding, leading to cuts in after-school programs, especially in the arts. As a result, many students from a young age are not exposed to an arts education. This outreach program aims to help address these systemic issues in public schools by working directly with local institutions to offer opportunities to students that they aren’t receiving otherwise.
“An artistic education is educating a whole other side of you, it’s 60 percent of you, it’s your soul, it’s your creativity, it’s your joy to be and seeing kids start to slump to school and get down about school that was my original impetus for starting the class,” said Associate Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins, who helped bring the program into fruition this fall.
Collins, who has two daughters that attend MacDonough elementary, taught a film class last spring at the school, which inspired him to organize the outreach program to help ameliorate some of the deficiencies that he saw in his daughters’ education.
“Public education is very test driven and there’s no art testing so the arts do get tossed to the wayside often as they try to make sure kids are ready for tests,” Collins said. “The curriculum is really STEM-focused which is great but also lacks other sides of an education. Both my daughters were starving for more arts education, and I’m a filmmaker so that meant a lot to me.”
While the program is centered around improving the educational experience of the elementary school students, Collins also envisioned student volunteering as being instructive for potential film majors to view the filmmaking process from a different perspective.
“You need to have a plan going into the class, but the plan often doesn’t work and you have to improvise,” Collins said. “It’s a lot like real filmmaking, you have a plan, and you get to the set and sometimes nothing works out, and you have to roll and improvise and figure out how to make changes to adapt.”
Nick Catrambone ’21 got involved in the beginning of the fall and certainly agrees with Collins’ outlook on the benefits of the program from the teaching perspective.
“You go in with some idea and come out with something completely different, and it’s funny how similar that is to filmmaking in certain ways,” Catrambone said. “Especially with documentary filmmaking. I’ve found that the documentary you set out to make is so different than the film you end up making and that’s the journey of filmmaking. It’s cool to see that on a micro third-grade level.”
The after-school program is run once a week on Tuesdays by three student volunteers—Caris Yeoman ’21, Luisa Bryan ’21 and Nick Catrambone ’21—who come up with different filmmaking projects each week for students to work on.
“Sometimes I feel more off-task than they are,” Catrambone said. “The kids are really focused, and it’s great to see them gravitating towards certain positions. Some kids love the camera or some like to direct. They’re third graders so they want to do the project for a minute rather than an hour, but they’re really committed to making stuff.”
The structure of the program aims to equip students with skills in collaboration and problem solving that extends beyond just filmmaking practices.
“It’s really interesting to see that the collaborative problems for 18-year-olds are so similar to the collaborative problems for third graders, people have different ideas and they don’t always agree and that’s true whether you’re eight, eighteen, or fifty,” Catrambone said. “It’s cool to facilitate that because it helps you think how you can be a better collaboration.”
In Bryan’s case, the program can be seen as helping to start address issues in the film industry from the ground up.
“A way to change this exclusion [in the film industry] and counter this hegemony is to distribute resources, knowledge and opportunities,” Bryan said in an interview with the Wesleyan blog. “At Wesleyan, we have access to film equipment, professors, transportation, creative drive—everything needed to facilitate the Film Outreach program. Now, instead of feeling frustrated with the film industry’s hegemony, I can help do something about it. What’s most important is that there are resources being extended to a diverse group of today’s youth, and this is crucial for the progression of the film and media industries.”
For Catrambone, his experience working with students in the after-school program has given him broader insight into the enormous impact that seemingly mundane public institutions can have on people’s lives.
“I feel like there’s a lot of kids in college that want to make a difference after college and this has definitely made me realize how important organizations like the YMCA are,” Catrambone said. “I feel like the change that people at the YMCA make is so much bigger than what a politician does.”
Any students interested in volunteering for the program should join the Underclass Film workshop that meets at 4:45 pm on Mondays or email Steve Collins.
Luke Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.