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Students learn about culture through foreign films in freshman academy
High school played a movie about a New Zealand tribe,’Whale Rider’, Monday
By Argen Duncan

Socorro High School freshmen are seeing world cultures without leaving town.

The entire freshman academy is participating in a program in which they see a foreign film at the end of every nine weeks, with the goal of helping them to understand other cultures and develop sympathy for different people. New Mexico nonprofit organization Journeys in Film operates the program.

On Monday, at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center, students saw the first movie, “The Whale Rider,” which shows the struggles in a native New Zealand tribe trying to maintain its culture when a girl seeks to claim her rightful role as their leader.

High school librarian Marian Royal, who led the effort to get the program, wanted the students to see what they had in common with the tribe.

“So I hope they’ll see the similarities and differences between themselves and respect the differences,” she said.

The program provides follow-up curriculum for the movies. Royal said Socorro educators have substituted a movie of their own choice for the fourth film in the series and had created curriculum for it as well.

The program also aims to expand skills in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, according to a Journeys in Film press release.

By bringing the films and curriculum to students, the organization hopes to inspire their curiosity, thereby preparing them to better live and work in a global economy.

In “The Whale Rider,” freshman Randall Romero particularly noticed the respect the girl had for her grandfather.

He said the foreign films were good because of the benefit of seeing a different perspective.

Freshman Carly Nowicki thought the program offered a good way to get students out of the classroom for alternative learning.

“Hopefully every student got something out of it,” she said.

Nowicki also said the experience showed the students could handle field trips.

Freshman Nikki Engler said the movie was better than reading books.

“It’s also a treat,” she said.

Students who behave well saw it (the film), she said.

Freshman Siddhartha Dhawan also liked the film more than “grinding away at textbooks.”

“It’s a lot more interesting and less boring, less likely to put you to sleep,” he said.

He saw the movie’s general message as, “it’s important to know about your heritage and keep it going.”

Freshman academy dean Gilbert Peralta said in the press release that he and other personnel recognized the importance of educating leaders for a global society.

“In the 21st century, as an educator charged with graduating students who can thrive both nationally and internationally, teaching about the rest of the world is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity,” he said.

Royal thought the students enjoyed the movie and the program would succeed.

Socorro High became involved in the program after Royal attended a workshop by Journeys in Film employee Anna Rutin during the teachers’ professional training this summer.

She bought the films with library funds and the central office paid for the curriculum.

Royal said the program has been piloted around the country and students became more interested in and sympathetic to citizens of other nations, seeing them as people, after participating.

“We’re trying to think more globally at the high school,” she said.

Each film has different lessons, Royal said, but all show a common theme of people supporting each other and realizing they’re connected and need each other.

They promote moving to a community-centered viewpoint out of a self-centered attitude, she continued.

Journeys in Film carefully selected the movies to make sure they were acceptable to Americans and age appropriate.

The second movie, “The Cup,” shows Tibetan monks in exile in India and boys sneaking away to watch the World Cup.

The actors speak Chinese, but the movie was filmed in India, Royal said.

Students are to watch “Children of Heaven” from Iran and “Bend It Like Beckham,” about a girl from India who wants to play soccer, as well.