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DMS students' documentary receives national recognition
March 21, 2016


DELANO, MN – Did you know 71 percent of the earth is covered in water, but only 3 percent of that H2O is fresh water? With 90 percent of that fresh water frozen in glaciers, protecting that remaining 10 percent of fresh water is becoming increasingly important.

That was the message of the documentary “Water Pollution,” created by three Delano seventh graders, that took home a third-place prize in the C-SPAN national 2016 StudentCam competition.

Gretchen Ness, Liliana Schroedl, and Naomi Thoelke created the documentary in their Advanced Language Arts class taught by Rachel Kunde and Talented and Gifted Coordinator Gwen Briesemeister.

This was the third year Delano Middle School students participated in the contest.

This year’s theme was, “Road to the White House: what’s the issue you most want candidates to discuss during the 2016 presidential campaign?”

“They were encouraged to find their topics wherever: talk to their parents, talk to their friends, look at the community, just any way they could come up with an idea,” Briesemester said.

The girls talked to Ness’ father, Delano Water, Light, and Power Commission Chair Jonathan Ness, who suggested water pollution as a potential topic.

“We said, ‘Oh, yeah, we like that,’” Schroedl said.

The girls did their homework, filling Google Docs with research and interviewing experts on the topic.

Those experts included State Rep. Joe McDonald, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Deputy Commissioner Michelle Beeman, University of Minnesota Water Extension educator John Bilotta, Minnesota Department of Transportation civil water resources engineer Kris Langlie, and Crow River Organization of Water Program Administrator Charlene Brooks.

McDonald pointed to a Minnesota Department of Health list that identifies lakes with varying degrees of pollution, and said, “It’s safe to say most lakes have some sort of pollution.”

Bilotta spoke of the cost to clean up water containing toxic components.

The documentary noted that $4.3 billion is spent to treat water each year.

Beeman spoke of other agencies that help prevent water pollution, such as the Department of Natural Resources, which protects wetlands that filter water before it reaches lakes.

Langlie and his colleagues also work to design stormwater ponds and rain gardens that have similar benefits.

Nationally, water pollution is addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The documentary included a clip of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking, fulfilling a requirement to include footage from C-SPAN.

Globally, water pollution is a matter of life and death, with one in six people not having access to clean water and 1.8 million people dying from preventable waterborne illnesses like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.

As the girls researched the topic, they realized they enjoyed interviewing the experts.

“Interviewing was really fun,” Schroedl said. “I liked meeting people, and we learned a lot of information from the people we interviewed.”

Thoelke said she liked operating the camera, and Ness said using and seeing different effects in the film was one of her favorite parts.

Briesemester spoke of the well-rounded nature of the project.

“They had to come up with the idea, research it, and write the script, but they also had to do all the technical stuff,” Briesemester said. “They had to learn how to use the cameras, how to do composition, how to work with microphones.”

Technical difficulties were a part of the mix, with the microphone not working properly during filming of an introduction and the interview with Bilotta.

Thankfully, it was quiet enough when interviewing Bilotta that the interview was audible, especially considering they had traveled to the U of M for to meet him.

Once all the interviews were conducted, the girls had to cut footage down to seven minutes to meet the requirements of the contest.

“We problem-solved and collaborated,” Ness said of the editing process.

“I think that’s one of the hardest parts,” Kunde said, “either getting enough for five to seven minutes or cutting it down to under seven minutes.”

The girls made the necessary cuts and submitted their documentary, along with nine others from their classmates.

Breisemeister and Kunde were optimistic.

“We were really hopeful this year,” Briesemeister said. “We felt we had several documentaries that were very good. It’s very subjective, so it comes down to who watched them and liked them. I think there were three or four that could have won awards.”

Kunde reflected on the class’ mindset at submitting time.

“OK, we’re going to submit them and it seems like a crazy chance that ours would be the one that’s selected because you have thousands of people submitting them,” Kunde said.

In total, nearly 6,000 students from 45 states submitted 2,887 documentaries. A total of 150 documentaries were recognized, including 97 honorable mentions.

The girls will split a $750 cash prize.

While Schroedl and Thoelke aren’t sure what they’d like to do with the money, Ness has a plan.

“I’m going to save part of it, spend part of it, and donate part of it,” Ness said.

The girls also already have tentative plans for their future, none of which are too surprising considering their award-winning work.

Ness would like to be a reporter, which is fitting considering the topic for her sixth-grade History Day project was Boyd Hupert of KARE11 fame.

Thoelke wants to be a veterinarian and a photographer.

Schroedl is aspires to be a scientist or “maybe a dancer.”

Regardless of what they go on to do, their teachers made it clear they are already proud of what their students have done.

“We’re just very proud of them for what they produced,” Kunde said.

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