Eighth-grade students at Schoenbar Middle School are in the early stages of producing a student-led documentary detailing the history of the World War II-era internment camp once located at Ward Lake.
Schoenbar teacher Chad Frey’s eighth-grade documentary filmmaking class is learning about conducting research, finding appropriate primary sources, interviewing and video editing to bring the project together.
Frey told the Daily News during a Tuesday morning interview that the project is still in the storyboarding phase, and could become either a semester- or year-long project.
During the 2020-21 school year, Frey’s filmmaking class worked on the student-produced short film “I Fought For That Seat,” the story of Irene Jones and her mother Nettie, who sued the Ketchikan School District in the 1930s for Irene’s right to attend Ketchikan’s then-segregated Main School.
“When we made the Irene Jones documentary, it was really, really positive, we got a lot of good feedback from a lot of people,” Frey told the Daily News. “From representatives, to teachers, to students, to community members, and you know, it’s something I always kind of envisioned for my documentary films class, is to do projects like this.”
Several people, including Schoenbar Middle School Principal Sheri Boehlert and Ketchikan School District Cultural Coordinator Teresa Varnell, provided topic ideas that his class could tackle for its next documentary film.
The topic was chosen on the heels of a project that Schoenbar English students completed last school year after they read the “Aleutian Sparrow” novel in verse about the Ward Lake camp, and completed visual projects to explain the book’s themes.
“And from there it just kind of snowballed, and then of course I asked my students about it,” Frey said.
“I was like, ‘Hey, we have this concept that we could be doing, we could maybe make a production about kind of the relocation camp at Ward Lake, and they wanted to do it,” Frey explained. “So we’ve just been knee-deep in readings and primary sources and interviews and it's going slow, but we’re on the storyboarding process right now.”
There’s a lot of work to be done to tell a complete story in the film — as of Tuesday, the students had worked through about 30 slides of the storyboarding process, but Frey estimated the film might run between 60 and 80 slides.
“And we're talking about (a) big time period,” Frey said. “It's like, the attack on Pearl Harbor, we're talking about creation of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), you know, and so we're just looking at images from the National Archives, too. And it’s just a lot of work. ... And then of course it's getting my clientele to read not the most interesting documents, going through and looking at old newspapers from 1941 to ‘45, and the Ketchikan Daily News.”
The next steps are to “storyboard” the project — brainstorming a rough outline, said Frey.
“What do we want to start with? You know, what do we want to end with, what's our body (of the video) gonna look like?” he said. “... What's our visual, what's our narration, what texts (are we) going to use? How do we want to flow from one shot to the other with different types of transitions? And so, I mean, we're getting through it.”
Interviews with individuals who resided at the Ward Lake camp, as well as a camp located in Wrangell, also are being included in the film.
The Tongass Historical Society has contributed photos from the area during the time that the internment camp was operating, and connected Frey with Mike Bezezekoff, a man who was relocated from Nikiski to Wrangell and finally to the Ward Lake camp at age 7, where he remained for three years. The students were able to interview Bezezekoff via Zoom.
Students also worked with local history writer and City of Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer to learn more about the area’s history.
A big part of the work also hinges upon the students actively working and collaborating with each other, Frey said.
“The tough part is, you know, in most classes that you go to, there's your traditional classes, the teacher presents the material and the students are sitting there and listening and taking notes and maybe raising their hand every now and then to chime in,” Frey commented. “But this is like the exact opposite. … It's where students are bouncing ideas off each other and talking about how shots are supposed to be and what parts we want to include. And that's not the easiest for kids to do, because they're used to sitting there. ... (In this class) you've got to talk and you gotta be part of the process.”
— Daily News Staff Writer Scott Bowlen contributed to this story.