A reality show worth the time | TheUnion.com
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A reality show worth the time

Editor’s note: Intended first as a movie review of “How the Kids Saved the Parks,” showing at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival (Jan. 10-13), this expanded into sharing more of what local students and teachers are doing in the classroom and out.

What is an activist? Looking for an expert definition, consider what Alexandra Zetterberg has to say: “People come together and put their thoughts into actions. It is people standing up for what they believe in and not backing down. Activism can be used for big and small things.”



Zetterberg, a fifth-grader at Grass Valley Charter School, is a veteran of a successful campaign that helped stop the closure of South Yuba River State Park. Dozens of kids from the school helped enliven a larger community effort.

“We got as many people as we could.” Alexandra said. “Then we organized. We put a mobile media action team together. We got to have an audience with [California Secretary for Natural Resources] John Laird’s office. We explained our reason why we didn’t think the parks should close. In the end, they gave in to our wishes, and we came away triumphant because we pulled together and made a difference.”




Another fifth-grader, Sammy Maliszewski, flavors commentary with a twist on preteen sophistication: “The community showed activism, too. It’s a cooperative thing. We are charter kids. Grown-ups don’t expect a lot out of kids, but that’s the thing. Kids like us are made for stopping the grownups from becoming bad guys when they don’t know it.”

Teacher Merry Byles-Daly answered a question asking what surprised her most about an opportunity for the kids to present their concerns at the state capitol.

“With just a couple of days’ notice, over 40 students showed up, full of passionate enthusiasm for saving their park. What impressed me the most at that first meeting was the level at which the students understood what was at stake and what it would take from them to be prepared to present their case in a very high level and public setting.”

Third-grader Ben Meyler noted, “I was surprised at how nice they were at the state capitol, and they listened to us.”

Teacher Alex Ezzell shared something he learned about these young activists.

“These students reminded me about something that I believe all of us once knew. There is tremendous power in the enthusiasm of youth. It has nothing to do with cuteness and everything to do with the purity of their beliefs. Cynicism has not yet crept into their outlook. They wholeheartedly believe that despite inevitable obstacles and setbacks, with perseverance, they will succeed. It’s as though, through their belief and commitment to action, the only possible outcome is success.”

OK, maybe there is room for a little cuteness. Fifth-grader Claire Schad offered an analogy that deserves a place in the activist handbook: “I play softball, and if you hit the ball right to the second baseman, who is going to throw it to first, you don’t stop till you are at the base. They could still drop it.”

Ezzell nods appreciatively, as do his students, to the thousands of people who lent support. This includes help from the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, the mayors of Nevada City and Grass Valley and from nonprofits, such as the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL). He hailed the “gift of trust and responsibility” instilled in a group of students amid “an amazing tapestry of organizations and individuals [that] coalesced to make this action successful.”

SYRCL, which orchestrates the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, produced the 15-minute “How the Kids Saved the Parks.” It well deserves being one of the diverse dozens of films accepted in the festival from all over the U.S. and countries around the world.

The film’s local color not only fits perfectly with SYRCL’s decades-long devotion to the South Yuba River, its exemplary success story nestles into a core theme of the film festival – activism. With a solid reporting style, this right-sized, well constructed documentary puts the kids front and center. By their example, they inspire grownups to do what Sammy Maliszewski thinks activism is: “compassion, perseverance and courage.”

Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at http://www.startlets.com.


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