AP Language and Composition students take a unique approach to prepare for the exam


Ridwan Oyebamiji

Adding the final touches to their documentary, juniors Sabrina Bohn and Emma Caplinger discuss how their interviews turned out. The junior were given six weeks to complete the project. “I’m really glad we did this project because I’m really interested in documentaries and film in general so this was a really cool opportunity and it introduces you to something that you wouldn’t think to be introduced to in English class and I think that it gives you different skill set that you [aren’t normally] given in school so I think it’s pretty cool,” Bohn said.

With camera and questions in hand, juniors in AP Language and Composition grabbed footage for the documentaries they created to understand their visual rhetoric unit.

The idea was created when English teacher Dan Barnes attended a writing conference at Fort Zumwalt West High School in the fall.

“We wanted to talk about visual rhetoric, but we wanted to do something beyond just advertisements which seems to be the go-to for visual rhetoric. We felt that the documentary is a chance for students to not only create their argument, but do it in a visual way,” Barnes said. “[Also], I thought that, with the caliber of students that I have, that this would be an accomplishable project for them.”

Students were required to observe documentaries made by the Fort Zumwalt West students and then produce their own.

“The project is the study of visual rhetoric through documentaries and the students will be first viewing a documentary of their choosing to analyze the tools that the documentarians use,” Barnes said. “They will [then] be creating their own over a local issue or an issue that affects their lives.”

Video of Nate Kronert’s Documentary

Group Members: Owen Jay, Rithvik Karthikeyan, Fernando Gonzalez

After witnessing the widespread vaping issues at school, junior Nate Kronert hopes to use the project as a platform to address the issue.

“It’s an informative [documentary] about being careful of what you’re doing and really thinking about it and learning the risk of something if you’re going to commit to something like [vaping], especially if it’s not even necessarily legal,” Kronert said. “[Vaping is] a problem at this school and most of the people at this school are under the legal age for smoking any kind of e-cigarette.”

Nate Kronert, Owen Jay, Rithvik Karthikeyan and Fernando Gonzalez make a documentary in AP Language and Composition on the vaping issue in the community.

Kronert wished to take an analytical approach by including statistics and data in addition to the students body’s opinion in the documentary.

“[We have] interviews of students, looking up and finding statistics on how it impacts your health system and social impacts [as well],” Kronert said.

Kronert sees the project as a learning experience to better manage his time when working on projects.

“It’s a little bit strenuous but it’s an overall fun project. You have to really think about the rhetorical strategies you’re going to use and think of everything you’re going to do beforehand, like video editing,” Kronert said. “Start with the end in mind is the really big idea there instead of just starting it and winging it.”

Video of Jon Ma’s Documentary

Group Members: Beatrice Antonenko, Bhargav Addagarla, Rabiah Hilaly, James Griffin

Following the coverage of the issues of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) program at Parkway, junior Jon Ma and his group decided to pinpoint and address the issues with the program in their documentary.

“[VICC] is the busing program that buses people in the city out to the county,” Ma said. “We wanted to do a topic that was not only relevant to our school, but the local community. [After] coming across [sophomore] Tyler Kinzy’s article and what the busing programs was like, I was like,‘this is an issue, something I feel like we should address,’ so we decided to make our documentary about that. ”

Jon Ma, Beatrice Antonenko, Bhargav Addagarla, Rabiah Hilaly and James Griffin make a documentary in AP Language and Composition on the detrimental effects of the VICC program ending.

After the completion of the project, Ma believes that the small details matter in the end, even if it is not noticeable in the moment.

“I think we take a lot of things for granted when it comes to the world around us as it pertains to visual rhetoric, so having to be in charge of all those creative decisions made me really aware of just how much work goes into creating a visual rhetorical atmosphere conducive to the message that you want to present,” Ma said. “I think even we’re [not] explicitly cognizant of what is happening, we are always picking up on those small, subtle things. If anything, this project has helped me be more aware of that.”

Video of Sabrina Bohn’s Documentary

Group Members: Emma Caplinger, Campbell Stewart, Lydia Harter

As a result of being bothered by the risks of gay conversion therapy, junior Sabrina Bohn hopes to use her group’s documentary to inform viewers of the negative impacts of trying to change people’s sexuality.

“Some religions believe that you shouldn’t be gay, [and sometimes] they believe that you can be gay but cannot act on those desires. We know a student from West that has gone through this and we thought it’d be really interesting to do a documentary explaining what conversion therapy is and how it goes,” Bohn said. “[For example], they might go to a counselor visit or they might go to a camp where they’re with other students who are basically learning how to not be gay or how to not act on those desires.”

Because Bohn’s group believes that gay conversion therapy is usually treated as a taboo topic or simply not talked about, her group hopes to bring to light the issues that come with it and how conversion therapy affects these students.

“Me and Sabrina both have close friends who have gone through the process of conversion therapy and it’s really affected their life so it was very important to us that we had a direct connection to it,” junior Campbell Stewart said. “We were really passionate about it and we thought that it was really unfair and corrupt. Many people [are still] affected by it but [it’s] not spoken about, so we felt the need to share it.”

In order to address the issue, Stewart anticipated using interviews to give a more meaningful approach to people who are unfamiliar with the topic.

“We tried to touch more with people’s personal stories and personal experiences. We have an anonymous Parkway West student who has gone through gay conversion therapy and we used [the student’s] personal story and [the] process of coming to terms with [the student’s] sexuality and then having to go through conversion therapy,” Stewart said. “We also met with someone who is an adult and a survivor of gay conversion therapy and so we tried to do it more through emotion so that people could have more of a personal connection with who we were interviewing.”

In terms of expanding students’ knowledge of visual rhetoric, Bohn realizes the effects of small implications that one can make that could completely change the message.

“I think it definitely made me appreciate all the different steps in making a documentary [because] last night, when we were doing a bunch of the editing, it was really interesting to realize how much editing goes into storytelling by messing with the transitions, the different interviews and which parts go where; you [are able to] really change the story by doing that,” Bohn said. “Especially [since we had] interviews that were a bit emotional, I [was] interested to see how people react to that, because seeing someone’s face crumple and cry is a lot more emotionally empathetic and makes you realize the severity of the situation.”

In essence, Bohn believes that this project has allowed her to branch out into areas she’s typically unfamiliar with.

“I’m really glad we did this project because I’m really interested in documentaries and film in general so this was a really cool opportunity and it introduces you to something that you wouldn’t think to be introduced to in English class and I think that it gives you different skill set that you’re [normally] given in school so I think it’s pretty cool,” Bohn said.