Last year, a filmmaker handed small video cameras to six Hispanic high school students in Crete and asked them to share their stories.

So Sonia and Maira and Melisa, Dulce, Francisco and Marco turned on the cameras and let the world in.

The result, along with a year's worth of work by two local producers, is "When We Stop Counting," a documentary chronicling the students' lives in a Nebraska school district whose Hispanic population went from 12 percent to 45 percent over the past decade.

"We really just humanized the issues of education and immigration," said Brent Meier, one of the producers.

Meier, who was the education and technology program coordinator at El Centro de las Américas, and Elisabeth Reinkordt of the Nebraska Department of Education directed and produced the hour-long video.

Meier said they focused on Crete because they wanted to show a community and school district that had adapted to changing demographics.

"They're embracing change," Meier said. "The community and the schools are partnering together. ... They see it as an economic and educational opportunity."

They named the film "When We Stop Counting" because the filmmakers wanted to go beyond the statistics and into the lives of the students, three of whom were seniors, one a single mom.

Four were born in Mexico. One worked nights at a cold-storage plant and went to school during the day. One worked at a bank, two were on the debate team, one became president of the National Honor Society.

Giving each of the students his or her own camera was one of the most important parts of the film for Reinkordt.

"My personal mission was giving students the tools to tell their own story to us," she told an audience at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center on Tuesday, after a screening of the film.

Meier told the audience he hoped they would realize more communities can embrace diversity.

The idea for the documentary began in 2009, when Meier got a $16,444 grant from the Nebraska Humanities Council and enlisted the help of Reinkordt. One of Reinkordt's colleagues suggested they look at Crete.

Meier said he was impressed with the way Farmland Foods, which employs many Hispanics who live in Crete, and the Blue River Valley Family Center, partner with the schools.

Farmland sponsors a general equivalency diploma program and English Language Learner classes. The family center has ELL classes, home visits, after-school programs, migrant programs and 14 to 16 preschool classes.

"I think the schools do a great job," said Karen Buchfinck, a bilingual guidance counselor at Crete High School who worked with the filmmakers and helped them find the students featured in the movie.

Crete Superintendent Kyle McGowan is featured prominently in the film, which also includes interviews with university scholars and officials from the Nebraska Department of Education.

But film is centered around the six students and their families, all of whom are supportive of their children's education.

Three of those students have graduated, Buchfinck said. One is going to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is planning to be a physician's assistant; another is studying education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. A third got married, had a child and is working in Crete.

The other three, who came to Lincoln on Tuesday for the screening, are still in school. They say they hope their stories can inspire other students to persevere.

"I started in a different world, an ELL world," said Francisco, a junior born in Mexico, overcome with emotion as he spoke.

"Now I'm taking the most advanced classes in school."

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.


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