Institute for Arts and Humanities Education (New Brunswick, NJ)

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Top: Asela Perez,14 years old, captured this smile in her experimental movie, Put Your Records On, created through the Pixel Nation after-school program. Bottom: A shadow falls in 15-year-old David Webber’s experimental movie, David’s Darkness, which he created through the Pixel Nation after-school program. Images courtesy of Institute for Arts and Humanities Education

David Sarnoff would have been proud. On a spring evening in 2007, about two dozen technically inclined teenagers gathered in the Princeton library that bears the pioneering broadcaster’s name. The occasion was the premiere of Cardinal Pride, a documentary commemorating the 40-year legacy of Lawrence Township High School. The teen filmmakers spent countless hours both during and after school collecting interviews and images that told the story of their school.

The event was part of Pixel Nation, a unique program created through a partnership by the Institute for Arts and Humanities Education (IAHE) and several New Jersey civic groups. In 2006, IAHE received an NEA Learning in the Arts grant of $35,000 to offer Pixel Nation events at two sites: Lawrence Township High School and The Cave, a Highland Park community center.

In classes taught by visiting Pixel Nation professors, the high school students learned all aspects of video, from scriptwriting to taping to editing. Word of the documentary quickly spread around Lawrence Township High School. Retired teachers offered to be interviewed, and marketing students volunteered to promote the premiere. By the project’s end, a broad range of students had been involved in some way.

Some 20 miles away in Highland Park, a second group of Pixel Nation students were simultaneously working on their own experimental movies. Program director Maureen Heffernan and her staff discovered that the students flourished when asked to experiment but stay within bounds. From November 2006 through May 2007, approximately 25 children, ages 11 to 15, created short movies during The Cave’s after-school program and showed off their efforts at a “school’s out” party.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)