Are you listening?: IWitness Video Challenge spotlights film on the deaf community

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STOCKBRIDGE — The efforts of Berkshire Country Day School students continue to be highlighted in the results of the national IWitness Video Challenge to share community stories.

The annual contest is sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education at the University of South California. The institute focuses on making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides, as a way to educate educate and inspire people to make social changes.

Berkshire County Day School teacher Sarah Pitcher-Hoffman, has engaged her eighth graders, for all four years of the IWitness program, to participate and submit films to the video contest. And, each year, one of her students has become a finalist.

This year, it was recently graduated eighth grader, Shayna Kantor, daughter of Dr. Herb Kantor and Dr. Lisa Kantor, who placed third in contest. She produced a documentary, "Are You Listening?" to raise awareness and support for the deaf community.

Jasmine Light also distinguished herself by becoming a national 2017 semifinalist with her video "Knowledge is Power." Light sought to empower others in her community through access to literacy and learning, collecting more than 900 books to donate to Berkshire County Kids' Place and Violence Prevention Center.

"I see my students grow each year while working on this project," said Pitcher-Hoffman, who noted how the school has a mission of engaging students with community service and global understanding.

Kantor's 3-minute, 52-second film begins with a nod to the rich and diverse interviews archived by the Shoah Foundation, and features a short clip of Holocaust survivor, Rose Rosman. Though not detailed in the Kantor's film, various accounts of Rosman's life indicate that she was born in Russia in 1917 and became deaf at the age of 3 due to the effects of an illness. Persecution under communist extremes forced her family to relocate to Warsaw, Poland in 1920.

As Kantor explained in her opening caption of the film, "Rose Rosman and her family struggled to find a welcoming place where she could learn as a deaf student."

Eventually, Rosman's parents placed her in the Israelite School for the Deaf, a selective and strict school that taught by the oral method, though Rosman is seen both mouthing words and signing simultaneously in the video clip.

Kantor then explains in her film, "The deaf community is not always welcomed, and people do not know how to respect their differences."

The young woman has a passion for learning American Sign Language, which she's studied for nearly three years.

"Seeing what Rose Rosman, the Holocaust survivor I showed in my video, had to go through when she moved from school to school for her education, I thought it was unfair that she had to deal with that just because she was deaf," Kantor said in an interview with the USC Shoah Foundation. "I realized how the deaf community is not acknowledged and included as much as they should be."

Kantor and her family credit tutor Maureen Lenti with her success in learning and sharing sign language and gaining a better understanding of the deaf community.

"Maureen was Shayna's dedicated and thoughtful American Sign Language tutor who worked with Shayna for two years, giving her the skills and confidence to teach the kindergarten students beginning ASL," said her mother, Dr. Lisa Kantor. "She was also able to help Shayna become conversant enough to interview an adult deaf couple, for her IWitness Video."

The local couple, Theresa and Jack Hathaway, in sign language and oral speech, talked about their experiences in different workplace and social settings. Jack said his workplace and colleagues have been respectful and accommodating, for example, by inserting lights to signal when heavy machines are operating, since he can't hear them. But Theresa said it becomes awkward for her when she notices people watching her sign, even if they mean no disrespect.

Shayna Kantor, in her video also included a frame with a quote from Theresa, "I'm normal. I just can't hear. I'm the same, I can do anything!"

Kantor explained how deaf people have made accommodations to adjust to the hearing world, by learning to read lips and make vocalizations, but she also feels that hearing people owe it to deaf people to learn how to respect and communicate with the deaf community.

In addition to making the film, Kantor during her eighth-grade year worked with her school's kindergarten class to teach her younger counterparts sign language throughout the school year.

"I thought this could influence them, so that when they are older they may be inspired to go out and also work with the deaf community, too," she said.

The closing caption of her film serves as a reminder, "Let's listen: Learn to accommodate for deaf people like they do for us every day."

Past Berkshire Country Day School finalists include:

- 2016: Lanna Knoll volunteered a local therapeutic community to highlight people who struggle with mental health issues and how they're finding hope and recovery.

- 2015: Sam Ferrone produced "Battling Stereotypes: The Experience of Prisoners"

- 2014: Ruby Merritt and Ayva Schiff made "Hugs and Gloves," detailing a visit to The Christian Center in Pittsfield, and donating winter gloves and hosting a gathering with cookies and cider.

About IWitness

IWitness is an educational website developed by USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education that provides access to nearly 1,300 full-life histories, testimonies from survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides for guided exploration. IWitness Video Challenge asks students to submit short videos to show how they were inspired by testimony to make positive choices and create value in their community. The contest is open to middle and high school students across the United States and Canada. Inspired by the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, the activities are designed to be participatory, academic and student-driven.

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