Three Pleasant Valley High School teachers received the Crystal Award at the Colonial Intermediate Unit 20s 2011 Excellence in Education Awards and Merit Scholars Ceremony.

Philomena Reduzzi, Patty McLain and Jackie Ludka received the award for their education project "Digital Documentaries to Highlight Contemporary Social Injustice" because it took a creative approach toward providing highly effective teaching and learning opportunities for their English honors classes.

In conjunction with class coverage of Alan Paton's novel "Cry, the Beloved Country," the English honors students in grades 10, 11, and 12 were required to apply the book's concepts in a semester-long collaborative project.

This project was awarded recognition because it made a difference in improving student learning, allowing students to apply their knowledge of social injustice, research, and technology to a topic of their choice so that they can exercise 21st century skills and create a meaningful product that is relevant to a broad audience. Research shows that students who are able to construct their own knowledge and create meaning in an authentic scenario are more likely to achieve understanding and develop motivation for success in future endeavors. Even more importantly, students are required to apply their understanding in order to truly make a difference and allow their voices to be heard on important topics while working collaboratively with their peers.

Patty McLain, 11th grade English honors teacher and technology integration coach, says the program was the brain child of former mentor and department chair, the late Joe Bilicic, who passed away in 2008.

This is the third year in a row that the project has won the award.

"He would be so proud," said McLain.

The first year the classes read "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink, the second year it was "Always Looking Up" by Michael J. Fox.

This year students in each grade read the book, "Cry, the Beloved Country," then brainstormed, decided what was the injustice and determined if it is going on today. Since Paton's novel highlights the social injustice that was prevalent in Africa during Apartheid, students were challenged to select a contemporary social injustice that they felt strongly about and that they saw as important and meaningful. After committing to a cause, students collected research, data, primary source interviews, and relevant digital artifacts in order to highlight their injustice locally, nationally, and globally and they were also required to suggest ways in which their injustice can be alleviated.

Students worked collaboratively and created a script, storyboard, and ultimately, a 15-20 minute video documentary. As for the specific production details, students had creative liberty. However, they were required to follow all school rules, meet all deadlines, attain formal release forms from each primary source, and adhere to copyright rules by seeking materials with Creative Commons licensing or by obtaining explicit permission.

The finished documentaries were presented to all three classes, teachers, and administrators at a showcase assembly at the end of the semester. The products were judged and graded with a rubric for adherence to project principles and guidelines.

"We're thrilled receiving this award. It is a validation of this project. The kids take on a social injustice and try to make a difference. It's great that the IU recognizes that it's more than teaching just content but what reaches out into the real world. The administration has always been very supportive and getting the award, the administration sees we are making a difference. The kids see they have a voice and they can actually make a difference, says McLain."

Philomena Reduzzi teaches 10th grade English honors and Yearbook Production. She says the project teaches 21st century skills in order to prepare the students for the globalized world.

"They're going to need the skills for becoming good digital citizens. I had this current senior class when they were juniors and didn't have a clue. But as seniors, they blow me away," she says.

"Winning the award is important to me because it validates the entire project. The recognition by the IU shows they see that students can make a difference and that their hard work and dedication to this project is something that others recognize. We, as their teachers, always tell them they do great things, and when it also comes from an outside source, it definitely solidifies the process and product," says Reduzzi.

Jackie Ludka, 12th grade English honors teacher says winning the award is a matter of pride.

"I'm so proud of my students for the hard work they put into the project. Many years when they look down the road, they can say, 'Wow, I did that.' I think we push our students to broaden their boundaries and step out of there box," says Ludka.

"And we're paying homage to Joe Bilicic. His legacy lives on," adds Reduzzi.