Grants Spotlight ’18 – ’19

NYC International Festival Spotlights New Trier Student Filmmakers

“Participation in the festival provided the students with a larger audience for their work, the opportunity to earn recognition and receive feedback from their peers and respected industry judges. The competition draws out their best efforts in applying what they’ve learned in the classroom.”
– Jim Syrek, Film and Broadcast Faculty

Eleven New Trier filmmaking students traveled to New York city this fall to attend the All-American High School Film Festival, the largest international high school film, photography, and media arts festival. Four New Trier films were selected for this year’s competition.

“Being chosen to be screened among hundreds of the best high school films from around the world demonstrates the level of quality filmmaking that our students have achieved,” points out Jim Syrek, Film and Broadcast Faculty, “and I’m confident we can do even better next year.” In 2017, two films by New Trier students were selected to compete.

At the festival, students gain from looking at the future of filmmaking from the perspective of a young adult, understanding the actual scope of filmmaking, and learning about the growing number of students nationally and internationally in the field.

“It was incredible for our students to see their films on the big screen and to share them with their peers from various cultures,” says Syrek, “And each year, we get a better sense of what is considered to be the best in the field, so that going forward, we know where the bar is as we seek to make our return the following year.”

The event features short films under 30 minutes in various genres: comedy, drama, documentary and public service announcements. Judges look at the writing, direction, editing and other production criteria in selecting entries for the competition.

“I want to thank the Foundation for helping us defray the cost of this year’s trip,” acknowledges Syrek. The Foundation provided $5,000 funding support to help reduce the out of pocket cost for the students to attend the festival.

Senior Olivia Luna submitted two films that were selected for the festival: one public service announcement titled “Oversharing” produced with fellow seniors Marion Madanguit and Lilly Meehan-Egan, and a short film titled “No New Messages.” Junior Eleanor De Fer’s short film, “Ribbon,” and senior Ben Senior’s short film, “Velveeta,” were also selected. All official selections were screened at the AMC theater in Times Square.

In addition to social gatherings, the festival provides several opportunities where our students network with representatives from media colleges and film schools located all over the country. This makes the three days of movie screenings, panel discussions and technology demos even more valuable.

Prior to the film screenings, a week-long broadcast journalism competition and photography competition present opportunities for more New Trier students to be involved. “This opens up the scope of student involvement beyond Media, Speech & Theater to include students from other departments,” says Syrek.

There is great potential for more students to collaborate, make meaningful content and get the most out of this experience. “The quality of our curriculum and tools help New Trier students to push the envelope as storytellers,” attests Syrek. “Each year, the film festival presents a great opportunity for us to showcase their talent and creativity on the world stage.”

Learn more about the festival at

Click here to invest in New Trier media arts education.


New Trier and Perspectives Charter School Partner for Peace

“The solidarity and collaboration between New Trier and Perspectives is showing how young, creative minds from varying backgrounds can connect and work together for a common goal – more peace in Chicago.”
– JJ Hill, Modern and Classical Languages Faculty

New Trier’s Integrated Global Studies School (IGSS) and Perspectives Charter School on Chicago’s south side have formed a “partnership for peace.” Their goal is to build solidarity and discuss ways they could work together to decrease violence and bring more peace to Chicago. Forty-five New Trier students from the IGSS program and 45 Perspectives students have met several times within a school year to get to know each other and to start laying the ground work for a collaborative project.

“This partnership has huge potential to be personally transformational as well as to positively impact the wellbeing of communities and the city as a whole,” says JJ Hill, Modern and Classical Languages Faculty. “What gave us so much hope was seeing that despite different external circumstances, students seemed to see the humanity in each other that makes us so similar on the inside.”

The Foundation provided $1,000 funding support to pay for a facilitator to guide the first of three exchanges between the students from both schools. The facilitator, who has experience working with youth from different communities, helped all of the students get to know each other by creating a safe place to share personal stories. By leveling the field between the students, the facilitator helped students from both schools to engage around issues of race and class, while also helping them see their common humanity.

“It was important to facilitate them getting to know each other before they could do meaningful work together, particularly given the stark differences between the schools in terms of race and socioeconomic background,” points out Lindsay Arado, Social Studies Faculty. “It was essential in finding common ground.”

“We’ve witnessed students becoming vulnerable with each other and sharing personal stories, as well as having insights around peace, what peace means to them, and action they could take individually and collectively to decrease violence,” recalls Hill.

“What was so striking was the commonalities they found between the groups even though they have, in a lot of ways, much different experiences growing up,” says Arado. “The conversations revealed how the experiences of being an adolescent crosses racial boundaries and socioeconomic boundaries. They found a lot in common despite significant differences.”

Students from Perspectives were struck by the internal pain that a lot of New Trier students experience such as depression and anxiety. Our students were struck by the external violence that Perspectives students face. Lack of peace was a common experience but manifested differently.

The partnership began when teachers JJ Hill of New Trier and Lindsey Schwartz of Perspectives attended a conference and came up with the idea to connect their students in a meaningful way. Although their students come from diverse backgrounds, the two educators wanted them to put their minds together to discuss the issues plaguing Chicago and create a peace initiative.

Perspectives students visited New Trier for team building activities and group meetings to plan the Peace Summit including designing a t-shirt logo.

The Peace Summit was hosted and led by the Perspectives students, and co-emceed by students from both schools. Students attended workshops throughout the day where they learned how to express peace through art like spoken word, music and visual arts. Participants discussed ideas and plans to spread peace throughout their communities and beyond.

As teachers from New Trier and Perspectives think of ways to build on the connections formed between their students, they are looking toward collaborations where students can roll up their sleeves, tap into their creativity and work on something tangible that can be used by groups of people or individuals for positive outcomes.

“We want the exchange between our students to be meaningful and for them to be working on something together, says Arado. “We want them to realize that both groups can affect change which is even stronger when they continue to work together.”

Moving forward, Hill and Arado envision students from New Trier and Perspectives collaborating on an entrepreneurial project that, for the most part, can be student driven.

“We are committed to maintaining and strengthening our relationship with Perspectives,” states Hill. “Continuing the collaboration between both schools would be a way to bring students together from different parts of the city to build community and work toward uniting a more peaceful Chicago.”

The IGSS is designed to provide a small school setting for students who are passionate about learning and who wish to help direct the path of their own education. The IGSS is driven by individuals whose open mindedness inspires the spirit of inquiry, whose personal involvement is fueled by compassion, and whose convictions lead them to be responsibly active, both locally and globally, in the world outside the walls of New Trier.

To support programs like this, call the Foundation at (847) 784-2346 or go to our giving page.


New Trier Robotics Students Gain Competitive Edge and Lifelong Skills

“Students in the robotics club have the opportunity to hone their skills by doing more sophisticated projects that put what they learn about building, coding, and design thinking to the test.”
– Chip Finck, Applied Arts Faculty

Every year, 18 to 20 New Trier robotics club students have the opportunity to participate in the VEX Robotics Competition, where they design and build a robot to compete against teams from other schools in a game-based engineering challenge. Students get to apply what they learn from their STEM classes while developing lifelong skills in teamwork, leadership and communication. Tournaments are held year-round at the regional, state, and national levels and culminate at the VEX Robotics World Championship in April.

“The club is an extension of the Applied Arts classroom where students get to apply what they learned to a longer and often more complicated challenge,” points out Chip Finck, Technology Education Faculty.

According to Applied Arts Faculty Chip Finck, robotics is an experience that offers students an opportunity to try things that they would not otherwise have a chance to experience within the classroom.
The VEX Competition Field Perimeter consists of 12 modular panels, once assembled can easily be stored or transported. These panels don’t need to be disassembled and are designed with locking hardware for long term durability. This photo shows the perimeter with game-specific elements added.

Students in the robotics club compete to qualify for the VEX State Competition each year. To help them prepare, the Foundation provided $2,146.29 funding support for the club to invest in a VEX Competition Field Perimeter Kit through the grants program. Designed to be reusable every year, the kit provides a relatively low-cost, high-durability modular field perimeter for use at a competition tournament.

New Trier robotics club members participate in three events: land based (VEX Robotics), water based using a remote operated vehicle (ROV), and air based drone competitions. The VEX field is primarily used for land robots, but the students are able to take elements from the VEX field and use those elements to help create the drone race course, to improve their reaction time and their control skills for the drone relay race, where New Trier’s varsity team finished as the 2018 State Champion!


This under water competition allows students to experience an entirely new world of robotics by designing and building ROVs to tackle missions modeled after scenarios from the ocean workplace.
New Trier hosted a drone relay race in 2018 with an amazing course held in the new concourse of the Winnetka campus.

“Our team looks forward to hosting the kickoff round of the scholastic drone competition in 2019,” says Finck. “It will be an opportunity to showcase the students’ skill level and passion, thanks to the investment of the Foundation in their education.”

Click here to invest in New Trier science and engineering education.


New Trier Dance Showcases Original Student Work, Fosters Community

“Dance education brings classroom discussion to a higher level. We reap the benefits of these kids learning about this art form and articulating what they see and understand, even if a student won’t pursue dance as a profession.”
– Christopher Rutt, Dance Division Coordinator

Teachers from the New Trier Dance Division light up when asked about how deeply the students and their families get involved in the performances. Dance Division Coordinator Christopher Rutt is a constant witness to the power of the arts to keep kids in school. “Parents have come up to me at a concert and said that what drew their student to this school was Menz Dance,” recalls Rutt. “They found a deep connection to school through dance and it’s what got them to graduate.”

“Passion for the art is evident in these kids,” adds Dance Faculty Johannah Wininsky. “Our advanced students in Dance Lab 2 come back to the studio and work hard at rehearsals even after graduation, not for a grade, but for the love of the art form. The experience makes them feel connected to each other and to the community, and that connection is evident in their performance.”

In Dance Lab 2, the capstone class, advanced dance students have the opportunity to perform their original choreographed works in an iconic Chicago theater. They learn how to produce a professional dance concert by going through the process of renting professional performance space, reviewing and filling out professional rental contracts, creating posters and flyers to publicize their concert, working with a professional lighting designer and collaborating with their peers. For the 2018 concert, the Foundation provided $3,200 funding support to rent the Vittum Theater in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, hire a professional lighting designer, buy costumes and create publicity materials.

“Because this is their original work, they have a visceral connection to the work. They feel it in their bones,” points out Wininsky. “They’re the choreographers and the performers. It’s their vision and there’s nothing else like it in the world.”

The Dance Studio Theater is used for both dance classes and smaller concert dance performances. In 2011, the school funded the initial equipment and materials needed to transform the studio. Side lighting, cyclorama, and a light board enabled Dance Division to provide students with an experience like that of intimate professional venues in the city. Many of our other dance and performing arts classes take advantage of the staging to provide a theatrical experience for in‐class studies, rehearsals and performative assessments. The opportunity came up recently to improve this experience for students. In response, the Foundation provided $5,561 funding support for much needed front lighting that utilizes the existing electric boxes and incorporates a simple truss framework that can be set up and taken down with relative ease.

L to R: Christopher Rutt and Brent Roman,
Dance Division Accompanist

“I feel that the new lighting effectively frames the space in a way that helps the dance students experience it as a more professional and performative space,” says Rutt. “Creating a visual separation between audience and performer enhances the curriculum by taking away the classroom feel.”

According to Wininsky, improving the quality of the lighting also creates a better viewing experience and presents the opportunity for bringing in new audiences. “I feel that many people don’t know about the magic that happens in our dance studio that’s tucked away inside the lower level of our building,” says Wininsky. “We need to bring it out more and make it visible to the community. Having a larger audience certainly helps our advanced dance students better prepare for their capstone concert. More importantly, it brings more New Trier families together as a stronger arts community.”

Click here to invest in New Trier arts education.


Read more impact stories:

Grants Spotlight 2018-2019

Grants Spotlight 2017-2018

Grants Spotlight 2016-2017

Grants Spotlight 2015-2016