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High School Class Gets High-Tech Lesson In Political Affairs

July 22, 1985

STOUGHTON, Wis. (AP) _ Term papers for Steve Landfried’s high school political affairs class don’t gather dust after they are done.

Instead, students who carried out Landfried’s assignments last year found their work showing up on television and being studied in turn by legislators in Madison and Washington, D.C.

Landfried assigned his class of juniors and seniors to turn out three 45- minute videotaped documentaries on community problems.

The students chose the topics themselves: the influx of Cambodian immigrants into Stoughton, school finances and toxic wastes in this southern Wisconsin city of 7,500.

″Most term papers ... are graded, and then they collect dust,″ Landfried said. ″These videotapes have done anything but that.″

The videotapes were picked up by the local cable television service and excerpts were shown by other stations throughout southern Wisconsin.

State legislators in Madison also watched the tapes, as did educators around the country. The students’ work even made it to Washington, where the tapes were shown on Capitol Hill to congressional aides.

The project took a lot of time, the students say, but it was worth it.

″I suddenly realized one day, ’This has taken up half of my senior year,‴ said Rob Barnett, who with Julie Gyland produced the program on the three toxic waste dumps in or near Stoughton.

″I’ve learned more about the problem, and I’ve learned about what reporters have to go through to get a story like that,″ Barnett said.

″It was time-consuming, but it wasn’t really hard to do,″ said Mark Meyers, co-producer of the program on school finances. ″For me, personally, it was worth the effort,″ he said.

The documentary on the Cambodians created a lot more compassion for the problems of immigrants, the students said.

″We were talking in class about things we could do and the Cambodians in Stoughton came up,″ said Tammy Holtan, who with Jan Brekke produced the refugee documentary. ″Some girl started saying all these bad things about Cambodians and we decided to see if they were true.″

They found there were three unfounded myths about the Cambodians in their community: that they are largely dependent on welfare, drive fancy cars paid for by welfare money and take jobs away from local residents. Their program helped to dispel the myths.

Vicki Vindedahl was one of the Stoughton residents who thought Cambodians were getting a lot of breaks, and she said seeing the program opened her eyes.

Olaf Brekke, Jan’s father, said the program taught him that the refugees - state officials estimate there are about 14,600 Southeast Asian refugees in Wisconsin - share the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.

″This was a course that was more than an academic experience. It was a life experience,″ he said.

Toting heavy videotape equipment, the students interviewed state and local officials, community leaders and many of the Cambodians who have settled in Stoughton in the past decade.

Many a night - not just the night before their term papers were due - they worked until midnight or later in an otherwise empty school, painstakingly editing tape, adding commentary and turning each of the three programs into polished productions.

The program on the Cambodians was not completed until 3:30 a.m. on the day it was to be shown.

Barnett, who said he was interested in a career in politics, said the work showed him there was little that politicians can do for neighbors of toxic- waste sites.

And although he started out wanting to show who was to blame for toxic wastes that have seeped into ground water near Stoughton, he said he found that fixing the responsibility was not as easy as it seemed.

″It’s almost everyone’s fault,″ Barnett said.

AP-PX-07-22-85 0234EDT

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