Vail Mountain School fifth-graders become filmmakers for documentary projects |

Vail Mountain School fifth-graders become filmmakers for documentary projects

Vail Mountain School fifth graders made documentary films, and screen 36 of them over a two-day period.
Vail Mountain School photo |

VAIL — Laurie Stavisky looked at her Vail Mountain School fifth-graders and decided there must be a better way to teach research skills than wading through another tsunami of notecards.

She talked Kim Zimmer and Brian Hall into helping her do something completely different. Zimmer is Vail Mountain School’s tech teacher. Hall runs Blue Creek Productions, the Beaver Creek Children’s Theater and the Buckaroo Bonanza Bunch. In other words, he’s a professional class clown.

They decided that research papers should be multi-media projects — short documentary films — and their reasoning is flawless. It goes like this:

To create a documentary, kids have to do a bunch of actual research, write it down, outline it, storyboard it, generate images to illustrate it and edit it down to a manageable size.

If you’re going to screen 36 documentaries in two mornings, they have to be succinct, but they also have to be gripping.

The kids learned all the stuff you’re supposed to learn from research projects: how to create, develop and defend an idea; how to pitch that idea; how to do research; how to hit a deadline; how to stand and deliver.

“To be able to hit a deadline, show something, and stand and deliver, that type of storytelling is powerful,” Hall said.

It all begins with writing

Of the six or seven weeks they spent on their documentaries, four weeks were spent writing and rewriting.

“Without the writing and the storytelling, the documentary becomes a collection of video gadgets,” Hall said.

Hall showed them some examples of short documentaries, like the Philadelphia football player who was raised by a single mom. To help other single moms, he launched a foundation that has built 310 homes so far.

“It taught them to think past themselves,” Hall said.

The subjects were as varied as the kids themselves, ranging from Phoebe Heaydon’s “Lindsey Vonn: The New Walk Down Victory Lane,” to Alec Bruno’s “Kyle Carpenter: A Veteran with a New Mission,” to Eddie Alrick’s “Ludwig van Beethoven: Listen Up.”

Stories of life and love

Frankie Marston found her inspiration in Sadako Asaki, who was 2 years old and living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell and ended World War II. Asaki’s family escaped, but the radiation gave her leukemia.

There’s a tradition that if you make 1,000 origami cranes, your wish will come true. More than anything, Asaki wished to live. She made 644 cranes before she died at age 12.

Marston said she could relate to her. They’re about the same age.

“We had our read aloud last year and I remembered that. It was one of my favorites, and I thought she’d be pretty inspirational,” Marston said.

Bruno chose Medal of Honor recipient Carpenter, who was recently in Vail as part of the Vail Veterans Program. Bruno was invited to the event in the Larkspur — it was the first time he’d heard of Carpenter.

“He was very inspirational to me. I was listening to his story and I thought, ‘This guy is pretty courageous.’ He never gave up, even with all he had to go through,” Bruno said.

Speaking of inspiring, you’ve probably met Alec and his younger brother Teddy. Every year for the past six years they’ve sold lemonade at Vail’s Fourth of July parade. In six years they’ve raised $10,000, and every dime has gone to the Vail Veterans Program.

Marston’s toughest challenge was finding pictures.

“It was such a long time ago,” she said.

So she went old school, and found pictures in books.

Bruno got started at Vail Mountain School in January. They handed him a computer and he started making his movie.

Marston learned about helping others and that there’s more you can do on computers than she thought.

They wrote everything in Google Docs, and did most of their editing on

Plus, their writing improved significantly, Stavisky said.

“They feel like filmmakers because they are filmmakers,” Stavisky said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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