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Sun Valley High School Students Look At Impact of War On Soldiers

Sun Valley High School students work together on a project that looks at how a soldier's military experiences affect their identities.

Two Sun Valley High School classes came together recently to create documentaries about military personnel who have witnessed war.

The activity combined the creative energies of Acacia Sammons' English II classes and Bill Vivian’s film production classes.

The exercise came about after Sammons read American Sniper byChris Kyle. She said after she read Kyle’s book, she felt her students could relate to the changes he went through in the war.

“This is something so relevant and so important to this generation that I want them to know, exploring your identity doesn't always have to be through the classic novels that you read in English; it can be through anything,” Sammons said. 

All students had the chance to interview both active duty and former soldiers, with a focus on how their experiences in the military had affected their identities.

“[Sammons] wanted us all to really dive in to get a real perspective of a veteran, how they view their own identities and how [war] really changed them,” said Sun Valley sophomore Ashley Brian.

Fellow sophomore Taylor Coleman said the project’s goal was to help students relate to the veterans, understand how they perceived things and how their attitudes changed.

“This project has opened up windows for people to be able to see how identity can change and how [it] can be altered by events,” Coleman said. “It can be as simple as reading a book when [studying] identity.”

More than a dozen active-duty and former military personnel participated in the project.

“As a soldier, I’ve always thought of identity as personalized,” said ADR Robert Funderburk. “The military teaches you that you're an individual; but you're part of something so big and something so huge that you have your individual identity, but you also have your military identity, which is [to say] you’ve got my back.

“It’s that mindset that nothing’s going to stop us,” Funderburk added. “We’re here, this is where we fit into this groove, and whether it’s one person or one hundred people, identity is well held together. It’s meshed. It’s a well-oiled machine, and it can make anything happen. That's the mindset I think a lot of military people have when they get into that cohesive group.”

The interviews with the veterans were filmed and edited by students in Bill Vivian’s film classes. 

Sun Valley High sophomore Peter Williams said his favorite part was the veterans sharing their personal experiences.

“I just thought that was pretty awesome,” Williams said. “I had a big part in this because I had to take the video, edit the video. Some of it was hard because I am not experienced, but I tried my best.”

Examining the identity of a soldier was the main goal for the project, but many benefitted in additional ways.

“I’ve learned a lot from examining their perspective," Vivian said. "You just don’t get it until you have seen or you can feel something [similar to the way they do].”

The experience was an educational one for all those who took part. With 71 students and 16 representatives from the military involved in the task, even those who planned the event were greatly impacted.

“The best thing that I have taken away from this is that the military individuals that I’ve spoken with said they want to come and watch the final outcome, and that they felt if they didn’t know their identity before they walked into that room, they definitely know it now,” Vivian said.

To view the collaborative final product, click Documentary of Military Identity.


Written by: Shane Rich, staff writer for The Spartan Shield (school newspaper)
Posted: Apr 23, 2015 by Judy Davis

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