Five years ago, Karen Kayser-Kemp re-worked the curriculum for her Foundations of English class at New Hampton High School to include the "Freedom Writers Film Festival."
"I wanted to have a capstone project that really engaged the students, it also connected with the community and it connected them with the older generation. So I came up with this concept," Karen Kayser-Kemp said.
Each spring, sophomores interview veterans in the community and put together 25 to 45 minute long documentaries.
"160 kids have been involved in the course of five years and we've interviewed 36 vets. 23 have been WWII vets," said Kayser-Kemp.
The students work in groups of four or five, spending about 30 hours at these computers editing the interviews.
"What I love about the project most is it really gives kids an opportunity to shine. They want to do the right thing for the vet they've interviewed," she said.
Students said they know Kayser-Kemp has high expectations for this class project.
"If we mess up on it they could get the wrong idea. She feels it's really important to get it how they wanted it. That's why she's pushing us to do our best on this project," said student Fransisco Rodriguez.
After approximately two months of work, Karen Kayser-Kemp then has her students present the documentaries to the community. Each veteran is presented with a thank you gift, and a portion of his or her video is played for the audience.
"By interviewing the vets, they really get a feeling of what these people gave up for them. I think it makes them appreciate our freedoms more," Kayser-Kemp said.
"She's a good teacher. I think it means a lot. The families appreciate it, and I think it's great we do this project," said student Jess Zeien.
Karen Kayser-Kemp hopes this project encourages everyone to interview someone special in their lives (veteran or not) to preserve those memories and share that history.
When Kayser-Kemp started the project five years ago, she had no connection to the military. Now, her nephew is enlisted and stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
If you'd like to see any of the documentaries, copies are available at the New Hampton Public Library, the Carnegie Center and the VFW in New Hampton.