English Faculty Creates Native-themed Documentary Curriculum

Native American students filming

By Sam Stevens (MCC Advisor)

Mesa, AZ – Stories are the lifeblood of traditions.  They are used to entertain, to guide, to pass the time, to teach history and life lessons.  In Native American cultures, stories preserve not only language and heritage, but also confirm identity, strengthen family bonds, and encourage leadership.  MCC English faculty Eddie Webb has a goal to teach his students how to tell their stories and advocate for social change through a curriculum he has recently developed.  With help from a generous grant by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which directs 12% of its gaming proceeds towards educational purposes, Webb, a Keetoowah native from Oklahoma, has collaborated through MCC’s English Department with the Hoop of Learning program, led by Angela Chavez, to develop a curriculum which will be taught in English 101 and English 102.  Called Native Documentaries for Social Change it will teach students how to create and tell stories which promote social consciousness using the medium of film. 

Currently, first-year composition classes are taught as writing-only sections.  Eddie’s goal is to create a visual literacy program for certain sections of ENG101 and 102, utilizing his curriculum to teach American Indian students how to use modern filmmaking tools, resources, and methods to fulfill their first-year composition requirements.  This will enable them to communicate culture, heritage, and histories in a manner that goes beyond traditional textual media such as books and magazines.  He has crafted the curriculum to present communication methods in a number of audio and visual contexts including oral tradition, indigenous languages, personal exploratory writing, academic research, and the writing of screenplays.  Students will be able to assess and deconstruct traditional-style documentaries in order to analyze and communicate ideas through understanding important technical and visual aspects of film, including but not limited to, camera operation, cinematography, audio science, file management, and software application for pre and post-production purposes. 

Eddie’s inspiration for the project was drawn from stories he heard in native ceremonies and traditional teachings that were shared with him.  He has attempted to imitate these teaching styles while collaborating with the Hoop of Learning program to design the curriculum.  Establishing a solid foundation in writing, storytelling, critical thought, and evaluation will be important, as will be the hands-on component of actually creating the documentary, all essential to the success of the curriculum, which he sees as an inevitable by-product.  It is designed to draw high school students early on to attend a summer workshop where they will begin learning the fundamental principles to guide their work through subsequent semesters while they navigate their freshman year.  As they complete pieces of their work along the way, the culmination will be successful completion of ENG101, ENG102, and the production of a quality documentary that conveys a powerful story.  Academic growth will be high and student engagement will be impossible to avoid as stories can be told utilizing many genres and emotional strategies to bring light to important social issues. 

Students learning to create documentary using newly-developed English film curriculum

With the support of Dr. James Mabry, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Jeffrey Andelora, English Department Chair, and Angela Chavez in MCC’s Hoop of Learning program, Webb’s curriculum will not only flourish but also give up-and-coming native filmmakers the voice necessary to advocate for themselves and others.  With the curriculum already completed he is hoping to draw students beginning in the Spring 2014 semester and although it has a native theme, it is available to anyone interested in learning to produce documentaries for social awareness and change.      

While currently completing coursework at The Film School @ SCC, Webb has recently been applying his own film knowledge toward his initial documentary, which was created with the help of Hoop of Learning students from the summer 2013 term.  He was able to use this experience to shape the curriculum and his new documentary is currently in post-production.  Anyone interested in getting a glimpse of this work can view the final cut at the premier on Nov. 26, 2013.  It is titled The Summer Hoop of Learning Experience at Mesa Community College and will be shown on the first floor of the Paul A. Elsner Library, room LB145 from 5:30-7:30 PM at MCC’s Southern and Dobson Campus.  Light refreshments will be provided and we look forward to its presentation.  For more information on the class curriculum and sections contact Eddie Webb at:  eddie.webb@mesacc.edu.  High school students looking to contact the Hoop of Learning program can email Angela Chavez here:  angela.chavez@mesacc.edu.