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What is a 'real girl'? NYC middle-schoolers try to capture the answer on film

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | 1:13 p.m. CDT; updated 5:03 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 28, 2011
Ten-year-old Kiana Frederick and 12-year-old De'Asia Rivera work to set up a video camera to film a scene at the Stephens College bookstore on Thursday morning, as part of a weeklong workshop. The girls are from Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle School in Manhattan.

COLUMBIA — Eight girls from New York City huddled around a small, white pony Wednesday as they began filming a scene at the stables of Stephens College Equestrian Center.

The girls are from Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle School in Manhattan, which has partnered with Stephens College to immerse their students in a week-long filmmaking workshop in Columbia. This is the first year for the partnership.

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Since Monday, the girls, fifth- to seventh-graders, have been shooting a documentary film that will show what a “real girl” is to them — a girl who breaks down stereotypes of women on film.

The documentary’s content is evolving as they film at locations around Columbia throughout the week. At the stables, they were trying to show a real girl's relationship to nature.

The eight were each selected after compiling a résumé and writing a 500-word essay on what they hoped to get out of their experience at Stephens. Most importantly, they had to display the four core values of Girls Prep: scholarship, merit, sisterhood and responsibility.

“The application process got pretty competitive,” Alexis Thomason, chaperone for Girls Prep, said. “Out of the 25 girls who applied, we focused on the applications that evidenced the highest standards of academic excellence and demonstration of Girls Prep's core values. It was important to us that the girls selected showed true grit and determination.”

Thomason said the focus of their time at Stephens is to prepare the girls with the abilities, knowledge and attitude to put them on the path to a four-year college.

With the help of Stephens students, the girls are shooting footage throughout the day and editing at night. Their stay includes completing a short film and taking film classes. But the girls also are getting the full college experience — eating at the dining hall and staying in the dorms —and have visited Sparky’s and Shakespeare’s Pizza.

“Film classes were specifically chosen to push the girls to take risks, try something new, and something they can share back at school,” Thomason said. “The girls will experience all roles, from acting to tech to the editing process.”

The girls also have had dinner with faculty such as Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens, and Chris Collier, vice president of admissions. That has given them career exposure and networking skills and introduced them to interacting with professionals, Thomason said.

De'Asia Rivera, 12, a rising seventh-grader, described the experience as a way to look forward to college and said visiting MU has been her favorite part of the trip so far.

De'Asia said her interest in filmmaking began when she was in the fourth or fifth grade but has grown as she has used more sophisticated equipment.

Taylor Masieh, another rising seventh-grader, got hooked on filmmaking this week, on the first day of shooting. Taylor said she is enjoying shooting the documentary so far and  wants the film to represent the Girls Prep core values.

Although she was shooting at the stables that day, Taylor was looking forward to riding the horses the next day. She said she has liked Columbia for the quiet place it is.

The other young filmmakers are Kaylin Torres, Binta Balbe, Kiana Frederick, Kesi Wilson, Marisa Guy and Keyara Dingle. They wrap up their week with a final edit on Friday, and, later that evening, they will showcase their film in Historic Senior Hall at Stephens.


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