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PHOTOS: South Surrey students host inclusion-centred film fest

H.T. Thrift Elementary leadership team aimed to spread awareness, understanding

A film festival hosted this week by South Surrey elementary students aiming to become more inclusive leaders was “a great success,” officials say.

The Equally Empowered Film Festival – an invite-only event held Thursday (April 28) at H.T. Thrift Elementary – was the culmination of Grade 7 students working throughout the school year with Tara Wall of UNITI’s community development committee and Alexa Lehwald, a member of the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo, an organization whose members all identify as having a disability, who work to make changes through positive relationships.

READ ALSO: Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo issue video appeals amid pandemic concerns

“The 17 students on the Leadership Team helped choose meaningful films that could be viewed at a small film festival in their school gym,” Wall explained.

“Films were viewed, discussed, rated and voted on carefully. These students have been planning everything from roles, design, speeches, marketing and more with full support of their amazing teachers Mr. Sawatzky and Ms. Ordeman.”

Films ultimately chosen for the festival included I Love Grilled Cheese and International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The fruits of the students’ efforts were screened for their younger peers, as well as a host of dignitaries, from White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker and UNITI CEO Doug Tennant, to Dr. Kathleen Burke from the SFU Beedie School of Business and Surrey Coun. Brenda Locke.

Wall, in promoting the event, lauded the collaboration with the school and its “incredible” Grade 7 teachers.

“The way they support the student learning and add to the vision has been appreciated. Their hard work and investment in this project have not gone unnoticed,” she said.

As well, “as the experience has unfolded, new ideas and understandings have grown immensely amongst student leaders.”

Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo member Alexa Lehwald said she liked the project “because they want to make the community better and inclusion is important because everyone can come together and feel happy.”

Her group’s Equally Empowered initiative shares “positive messaging on how all people can: self-advocated (stand up for themselves), help their community, and help others.”

Its concept came from Semiahmoo House Society summer student Catherine Grimme, after she noticed a gap in education when it comes to the disability movement and the capabilities of people who have developmental disabilities.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Language matters, say Self Advocates of Semiahmoo, following Chilliwack trustee’s use of R-word

H.T. Thrift leadership students, in a letter to Peace Arch News, said their aim for the festival project was “to spread awareness about disabilities and other related topics.”

“We have been watching and discussing short films that highlight their victories, challenges and other additional films that empower people,” the letter continues.

“We believe holding a film festival will inform our fellow students and hopefully result in a dissemination of important topics.”
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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