Bloomington Herald-Times Articles
January 5, 2009
Year in review
Man of the Year: Michael McRobbie
December 30, 2008
Few men have had a greater impact on our community in 2008 than Indiana University President Michael McRobbie.
During his first 18 months, McRobbie has spearheaded a number of key initiatives, each of which might qualify him as the H-T's Man of the Year.
At the top of the list of McRobbie's accomplishments this year was his skillful management of the turmoil in IU's athletic department in the wake of the NCAA's investigation into the conduct of former men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson. McRobbie deserves credit for taking a tough stance without compromising the integrity of the process.
Even with the potentially crippling distraction of the NCAA investigation, McRobbie demonstrated his energetic leadership by obtaining unprecedented approval for $203 million in construction projects on the Bloomington campus. Almost half is devoted to arts and humanities.
Research ranks high among McRobbie's priorities. The new business incubator at the corner of 10th Street and the Ind. 45/46 Bypass promises to be a thriving research park that will provide necessary infrastructure for the university's economic development efforts. And IU has partnered with Purdue University in obtaining a $25 million federal grant for a major life sciences initiative on both campuses.
Under McRobbie's leadership, IU continued to expand its international programs and global strategies, ensuring IU's place on the world map. At home on the Bloomington campus, McRobbie has demonstrated a commitment to diversity by offering incentives to departments for measures that enhance diversity among students and faculty. Campus sustainability has also received renewed attention this year.
McRobbie has earned his status as an outstanding university president by being a strong leader in international, national and state arenas. What makes him even more special to Bloomington is his dedicated commitment, along with his wife, Laurie, to very local causes such as Hoosiers Outrun Cancer and WonderLab.
For his contributions to the economic, academic, artistic, environmental and entreprenuerial health of our community, Michael McRobbie is our Man of the Year for 2008.
Woman of the Year: Laurie Burns McRobbie
December 31, 2008
The New Wings Community Partnership is about to meet its goal of raising about $5 million to refurbish a downtown building and launch programs that will help countless women and children break free from the chains of domestic violence and rebuild their lives with new skills and a supportive environment.
At the core of the New Wings project is Laurie Burns McRobbie. She served as chair of the fund-raising campaign and was a leading advocate for the project as a board member of Middle Way House.
For her work with Middle Way and other community organizations, particularly WonderLab, she has been picked as the H-T's Woman of the Year for 2008.
Charlotte Zietlow, economic development coordinator of Middle Way, said McRobbie's work with New Wings and Middle Way went well beyond her status as Indiana University's "First Lady."
"Her contribution, I believe, has enabled us to make this the COMMUNITY partnership it has become," Zietlow said in an e-mail. "She has not been a figurehead -- au contraire.
"This process has been an amazing process, really daunting, but without active visible leadership which is both skilled and wonderfully personal, I think it would have been infinitely more difficult and fear it may not have been nearly as productive." Laurie Burns McRobbie provided that leadership perfectly.
She also worked many hours for the WonderLab Museum of Health, Science and Technology.
"Laurie is truly an extraordinary individual ... .", said Catherine Olmer, WonderLab executive director. "She provides invaluable service to WonderLab as a board member, helping to both guide the museum in its operations and plan for the future.
"She understands the fundamentally important educational role of WonderLab to south-central Indiana, helping to better prepare today's children for the higher education opportunities, and scientific and technical careers of tomorrow."
Laurie Burns McRobbie's work with these two important community organizations, along with countless other efforts on behalf of community groups, earned her the Woman of the Year designation for 2008.
What's the next step for nonprofits?
Bloomington's hunger issue, other social service problems getting national focus at Indianapolis event this week
By Andy Graham
January 4, 2009
Peg Stice heard that question posed during the panel discussion that followed Bloomington's "Food Stamp Challenge," which had involved about a dozen community members voluntarily living on a food-and-beverage budget of $3 a day for a week in November.
"One of the participants who'd had some previous experience with food stamps very sincerely thanked the city officials and others who had taken up the challenge, but then asked 'Where does this go from here?'" Stice said last week. She's director of Indiana University's American Humanics program.
Where it goes could well be determined, at least in part, today through Wednesday in Indianapolis as the annual American Humanics Management/Leadership Institute convenes.
American Humanics, founded in 1948, is an alliance of more than 70 colleges and 60 agencies to prepare new generations of leaders for the nation's nonprofit sector. The institute is the capstone for students earning humanics certification. With this year's event coming to Indianapolis, IU and Bloomington have a major presence and will be in heavy recruiting mode, with more than 700 young people attending.
Many institute attendees will participate in a case study on domestic hunger policy based upon Bloomington, in part as an outgrowth of the Food Stamp Challenge. Bloomington is anonymous, called "Utown" for the case study, but its people, organizations and situations are recognizable.
So some of the best and brightest young minds in the nation will brainstorm and role-play about addressing hunger in a place such as Bloomington, under the auspices of established experts in the field, and that could prove very valuable in a time of fiscal recession when demand for services is rising but funding is dwindling.
Many of those experts are local or already have ties to Bloomington and IU. They will help provide 20 of the institute's workshops.
Jim Morris, president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment, is a former IU trustee and former executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme who will deliver the institute's opening address. He co-chairs the host committee with Eugene Temple, president of the IU Foundation. Also on the committee are IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty members Beth Gazley and Les Lenkowsky, and Erika Albert, a former graduate assistant for IU's American Humanics program who is now development director for the Monroe County YMCA.
Julio Alonso, executive director of Hoosier Hills Food Bank, will be among those responding to student policy recommendations from the case study and the related National Collegiate Dialogue on World Hunger at the institute. The case study and dialogue were developed by a team of IU SPEA faculty members Lenkowsky, Gazley, Stice and Ann Marie Thomson, IU SPEA student Susie Puskar and alumnae Elizabeth Gensler and Kerry Brock. Stice and IU student representative Tiffany Guridy joined IUPUI counterparts on the advisory council that organized this year's institute.
Stice, former director of Monroe County's United Way, said "We're lucky in Bloomington," citing IU President Michael McRobbie's call for service learning and outreach and the collaboration her office enjoys with Bloomington's nonprofit agencies and professionals. Ivy Tech's Bloomington campus also emphasizes service learning.
"We have extraordinary nonprofit professionals, managers and board members here in Bloomington," Stice said. "Once you get to know people such as Julio Alonzo and Toby Strout, you realize they're amazing people who can do so much with so little.
"But when I was directing United Way, I knew that even with great leaders and great ideas, we didn't always have the resources or staff positions we needed to properly follow up. It's gratifying our (American Humanics) program can now help provide interns."
The IU American Humanics program has, through internships funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, supplied 11 staffers to organizations in just the past two years in coordination with the United Way-sponsored Nonprofit Alliance and the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network.
Local internships during that period have included three at Girls Inc., another at the Boys and Girls Club and another at the Monroe County Humane Association. Three more local internships are set to start this spring, including one at the Boys and Girls Club, another to help start a Boys and Girls Club in Ellettsville and one at Fairview Elementary.
The YMCA's Albert relished the experience she gained as an intern at Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
"When I was an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to have a career that would make a difference but didn't know how to go about it or what that would look like until American Humanics provided me an introduction to the nonprofit sector," Albert said. "And along the way I had the opportunity to work in the nonprofit sector locally while learning tools and techniques in areas like fundraising."
Albert noted that United Way is funding any local agency wishing to conduct interviews at the institute in search of either interns or full-time employees. And the agencies are benefiting from the increased professionalism that comes with American Humanics certification.
"We have to get better, smarter and more professional in our approach, better at doing more with less," Albert said. "We have to know how to attract and engage volunteers and donors.
"A lot of nonprofit personnel feel overwhelmed right now. The need is always right in front of us, and it's growing, but our resources are often shrinking. But that just means it's time to step up, really respond, really collaborate, really come up with new approaches and solutions."
Institute attendees will have four practical tracks to pursue with institute workshops -- fundraising, diversity, youth development, management leadership -- all with IU or Bloomington contributions. For example, the Youth Development track will benefit from expertise from The Journey, a new training program in Bloomington funded by the Lilly Foundation.
IU's Lenkowsky said the institute experts and organizers want their student participants to put the training into the context of their own lives, to answer that "What next?" question:
"So when you go back to campus and your communities, what are you going to do?"
Flooding top story of 2008
By Bob Zaltsberg
December 31, 2008
Flooding that left much of south-central Indiana under water last summer was voted as the Story of the Year by the newsroom staff of The Herald-Times.
The flooding story was a clear leader in newsroom balloting, followed by the historic election turnout and the misadventures of Indiana University basketball. The fourth-through-tenth-place stories trailed the top three significantly.
No. 1: Flooding
A heavy downpour on June 5 -- and a clogged storm drain -- led to thigh-deep water on Bloomington's Kirkwood Avenue. The flash flood soaked businesses and floated cars parked in the area.
That storm was just a precursor of what was to come. On June 7, heavy rains caused the worst flooding in this area in about a century, chasing thousands from their homes and inflicting millions of dollars in property loss. Morgan, Brown, Owen, Greene and Monroe were among Hoosier counties designated as disaster areas.
No. 2: Election turnout sets record
Intense interest in the presidential election prompted 63,781 people to vote in Monroe County in the November election. The number represents about 70 percent of the 91,586 registered voters.
It also illustrates the heightened involvement of voters compared to other presidential elections. In 2004, 51,061 local voters cast ballots; in 2000, the number was 41,375.
Early voting helped swell the numbers. About 25 percent of Monroe County's voters fulfilled their civic duty before Election Day.
No. 3: NCAA puts IU on probation
In November, the NCAA put IU on three years' probation for incidents that took place under men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson. The news was the last in a series of events that made the Hoosier basketball program and the IU athletic department a high vote-getter for story of the year. Sampson didn't make it through his second season, accepting a $750,000 buyout in February as the NCAA continued to investigate allegations that he had violated already imposed sanctions. In June, the NCAA added a new charge against IU, saying the university failed to monitor the men's basketball program in the way required of all NCAA member institutions; failed to provide the heightened monitoring required by the prior infractions history of Sampson; and failed to monitor the self-imposed penalties IU put in place for Sampson. The same day, athletic director Rick Greenspan announced his resignation, effective at the end of the year.
No. 4: Clintons, Obama campaign here
The Democratic primary brought political candidates and their surrogates to Bloomington throughout the spring. President-elect Barack Obama visited twice -- once for a speech at Assembly Hall, and once for an unscheduled stop that took him to the women's Little 500 and to Nick's English Hut. Candidate Hillary Clinton spoke at Assembly Hall, as did her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Daughter Chelsea Clinton spoke at the Indiana Memorial Union. Obama won Monroe County in the primary, but Clinton won the state.
No. 5: GE announces plant closing
General Electric officials announced on Jan. 16 that the manufacturing plant in Bloomington would close near the end of 2009. Plant manager Kent Suiters said at the time that the decision was made because rising material and labor costs were not meshing with what consumers are willing to spend on side-by-side refrigerators. The westside plant has manufactured that style of refrigerators since 1967.
At the time of the announcement, GE had 896 employees in Bloomington: 837 hourly employees and 59 salaried employees.
Its peak in employment was around 3,000.
No. 6: Deputy killed directing traffic
Monroe County sheriff's deputy Sarah Jones was killed while she was directing traffic at the scene of an accident on the night of Oct. 17.
She was struck and injured by a car as she helped direct motorists around a vehicle being pulled from a ravine.
She died in an Indianapolis hospital two days later.
Sheriff Jim Kennedy said the 27-year-old officer was the first Monroe County sheriff's deputy ever to be killed in the line of duty.
Last week, the Indiana Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the sheriff's department for a "serious violation" in the death, because Jones was not wearing a reflective vest at the time she was struck.
No. 7: Hospital merger, possible move debated
The Local Council of Women voted 316-105 in October against a resolution that could have rescinded a June 16 vote by the council that made it possible for Bloomington Hospital to pursue a merger with Clarian Health Partners. The June vote of 403-149 had cleared the way for the hospital to pursue the merger. That was challenged by some members of the Local Council, who successfully moved for a revote.
The future management of the hospital and concern about whether the facility might move to 85 acres of land northwest of the city that the hospital purchased in 2006 made this a big story the last six months of the year.
No. 8: Tom Crean named new IU coach
Tom Crean, the successful head coach at Marquette, was selected to replace Sampson as coach of the IU men's basketball team. Crean acted swiftly to clean up the program, releasing all the players Sampson had coached except for two players who had walked on to the program. His young team of mostly freshmen and walk-ons has won just 5 of 12 games in the pre-conference season, while Crean has remained positive and asked fans to be patient.
No. 9: Newmann faces issues, loses primary election
Issues continued to surface in the Monroe County auditor's office, culminating in the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into allegations of official misconduct and misappropriation of funds. The prosecutor, Barry Brown, found that auditor Sandy Newmann did nothing criminal when her office requested approval from the state for a $350,000 additional appropriation that had been denied by the county council, posted the money to an account and spent part of it. But he called the error "gross and unacceptable negligence."
Various other problems arose in the auditor's office, including a State Board of Accounts audit that noted late payments, bookkeeping errors and inadequate records.
The voters rejected Newmann's bid for re-election in the May primary.
No. 10: Harvey resigns; new superintendent hired
Monroe County Community School Corp. Superintendent James Harvey announced in late July that he would leave his post on Sept. 1, pushing the board to hire an interim leader -- Tim Hyland -- and begin searching for a replacement. A very open selection process that included public meetings with the three finalists resulted in J.T. Coopman being hired. The current superintendent of schools at Clark-Pleasant schools in Whiteland is scheduled to begin with MCCSC on July 1, 2009.
Hoosiers need help evaluating meaning of ISTEP scores
By Jeff Abbott Indiana Policy Review
December 28, 2008
The release by the Indiana Department of Education of the latest 2008 ISTEP scores was met with widespread dissatisfaction -- as is always the case.
Statistical analysis, however, shows all the angst is unnecessary. The news reports do not accurately reflect the performance of Indiana students or schools.
Teachers and school-district leaders have fallen into the trap of only comparing this year's scores with last year's scores. Even a top state department official at the press conference when the test scores were released referred to this year's results as "disappointing."
One superintendent said it "bothers (him) that scores don't go up" each year. Another superintendent called a special meeting with his principals to "analyze and figure out exactly what went wrong." In yet another school district the assistant superintendent was reported to be "frustrated" with her district's scores.
The public does not understand the statistically valid way of analyzing ISTEP test scores. Indeed, most school leaders are on the defensive because they do not have the knowledge and skills to defend the quality of their education services. They have essentially conceded that all is doom and gloom in ISTEP Land.
To repeat, it is of little statistical use to compare only one year's test results with the previous year's results. It is a meaningless comparison, particularly given the fact that the reported scores are from different groups of students, and that the tests compared are not even the same tests.
With small schools and small classes of students, scores will always fluctuate up and down because the students who are tested each year are different students and have different academic abilities.
Test scores must be compared instead over a period of years to determine the trend of the scores. This can be done using an Excel spreadsheet, plotting the scores, preparing a line graph, and then adding a trend line.
The resulting chart shows that ISTEP scores for Indiana students are not dropping over the long run but are increasing. The linear trend line is going up from left to right, which indicates a positive trend in scores.
Moreover, by using a widely used quality-process tool called a "Control Chart" it can be shown that the scores are increasing because of something other than random chance.
Regardless, for 13 years now, Indiana citizens have experienced the depression that is the annual release of ISTEP scores.
Schools continue to be ranked much like the standings in the sports pages. Schools' test scores are compared with other schools' test scores. Schools' results are compared with their last year's scores. Seldom is there mention of that need to compare an individual school's scores over a period of time.
Moreover, ISTEP tests have increased in difficulty over the years, while levels of student poverty have risen nearly every year and the number of non-English speaking students has grown. Indiana scores nonetheless have risen over these years, leaving us with this inescapable conclusion: Indiana's teachers and principals are performing yeoman service in teaching the students of Indiana.
Rather than being applauded, however, educators are roundly criticized. The next time you see a teacher or principal, you might want to pat him or her on the back and say, "Thanks for a job well done."
Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D., is a professor of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact him at email@example.com.
Gym fire may have been caused by 'hot spot'
By Brady Gillihan and Mercedes Rodriguez
January 1, 2009
Wednesday afternoon's fire in IU's Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center might have started after workers on the roof left a "hot spot," Bloomington's fire chief said.
The fire was discovered and extinguished before flames could damage more than a section of wood and shingles on the south side of the roof.
Bloomington City Fire Chief Roger Kerr said the blaze, which was called in at 4 p.m., might have ignited after workers welded or soldered on the roof or gutters earlier in the day, leaving behind what he termed a "hot spot."
EARLIER: Live updates from fire
"The fire started lower on the roof and the firefighters climbed ahead and cut up the roof to stop it from spreading," said Kerr, pointing out the damaged interior. "Had they not stopped it when they did, the wood throughout the ceiling and the roof most likely would have been destroyed completely."
Kerr said the ceiling is made of tongue and groove planks covered by a layer of plywood and, finally, by the asphalt shingles.
Firefighters tore the large copper seams from the roof of the center to extinguish the flames, leaving several of the indoor basketball courts flooded with water from the hoses. A ladder truck raised several firefighters to the roof where they used chainsaws to cut into the building.
Witnesses on the scene said the flames came up near the gutters near a second floor window.
Jeffrey Tippin, an IU student who was working in the building, said he had just left after his shift when he smelled a strange odor.
"Something smelled wrong, and I saw the smoke and called it in," he said.
Tippin said he was the last to leave for the day and when he looked back after walking outside, he could see the smoke rising from the roof. Because of the nearly vacant campus, Tippin said he was glad he happened to look closely at the roof, as there were no other people who initially saw the fire.
Chief Kerr said the blaze was pretty much extinguished by 6:15 p.m.
International students have campus to themselves during break
Many gather at student center, find other ways to keep busy
By Nicole Brooks
January 5, 2009
When Indiana University essentially shuts down for winter break, a campus outfitted for more than 40,000 students suddenly claims at most a few thousand residents. The university's streets and sidewalks are quiet, prompting many townies to whisper words of appreciation for the temporary reprieve in traffic.
But not everyone has flown the coop, and for those left behind, campus becomes a strange place.
"It's very creepy," IU student and Eigenmann Hall resident assistant Yasuhiko Harada said of his dorm over winter break. The doctoral student studying voice stays behind to serve as an "international face" for new international students moving to campus between semesters. Sometimes students show up in the middle of the night and wake him with the building's buzzer. The dorm is locked, so Harada must get up and walk the empty hallways to let them in.
Harada was one of about two dozen international students gathered at IU's Leo R. Dowling International Center last week for a pizza-and-movie night. The center is closed part of the break, but holds at least two events during the three-week hiatus to give students on campus a social outlet. There was a holiday luncheon Dec. 22, and the pizza party with a screening of the movie "RV."
"I think the majority of them go home or travel," Sandy Britton, director of the center, said of the university's more than 5,000 international students.
But the majority is not everyone, and Britton and others do their best to make sure students are not lonely or bored.
Community members participating in Bloomington Worldwide Friendship Inc., a program that partners foreign students with American families, invite students to their homes for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas celebrations.
"I, for instance, had nine students in my house for Thanksgiving," Britton said. "There are churches also that are very welcoming."
A student doesn't have to celebrate Christmas, she said, to feel homesick this time of year -- everyone else is looking forward to and talking about traveling home for the holidays.
It would take Lan Le, a junior majoring in business, a day of travel to get home to Saigon, and a day of travel back -- plus she'd need time to overcome jet lag, she said. It's a long way to go, she said. "They want me to come back in summertime," she said of her family. "They said that they would come here when I graduate."
Le lives off campus, has no car and relies on city and campus buses to get around. She laments the scaled-back bus schedule over the holidays. "How can I go to the mall?" Le rides her bicycle, and if it is bitterly cold, walks.
"We eat and we talk," she said of her activities with friends. Le also spends time at the library and volunteers at the Asian Culture Center.
Yuebo Wang, a first year master's student studying human computer interaction design, hails from northern China and came to the United States for the first time for school.
Over break, Wang said, "a lot of students choose to have a trip, to look at another part of America." Chicago is a favorite destination, he said, and many students also plan trips to New York City.
Spring semester classes start Jan. 12.
IU, Purdue degrees are great value
January 4, 2009
This guest column was written by James S. Almond, the interim executive vice president for business services and finance and treasurer at Purdue University.
In these uncertain economic times, many of us are wondering where we can best invest. As Purdue University's chief financial officer, I can tell you the smart answer is to look for value.
According to SmartMoney magazine, you don't need to look far. The magazine's January issue ranked the value of university degrees nationwide. It considered the ivies and other privates, as well as our state-supported public universities. It considered the cost of the education and compared that with the salaries earned five years after graduation.
The value of a degree from Indiana's two flagship institutions was a pacesetter. Purdue ranked ninth in the country compared to all others. Indiana University was close behind at 13th. Our graduates, their families and the state of Indiana reap a terrific return on investment.
Why? Consistent state support and good university stewardship, when combined with world-class academic programs, produce value.
Thank Gov. Mitch Daniels and the current Statehouse leadership for continuing to rank higher education among the state's top priorities. State revenues make up 33 percent of the Purdue general fund, which supports the academic mission, and have been crucial to keeping tuition and fees low.
In fact, the cost of an IU and Purdue education rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in the Big Ten. Indiana residents enrolled full time pay $8,231 to attend IU and $7,750 a year to attend Purdue. Yet we know from our corporate recruiters that these students with their Midwest work ethic and global educations are highly sought after. Now, SmartMoney validates the value of these investments.
Universities also are good values when they protect the academic base of their institutions, even in tough economic times. At Purdue, despite today's challenges, we will not step back from our efforts to raise $304 million to support our needs-based scholarships for low- and middle-income students. We also will continue to expand merit-based scholarships so the very top students will not be lured away. And we will retain programs that help our students succeed.
Academically, the fall 2008 freshman class at Purdue is better prepared than ever, which means parents, counselors, alumni, and high school students also see our university as an excellent educational value. Our average high school rank set a record this fall, with 55 percent of new freshmen in the top 20 percent of their graduating classes. Our SAT scores set records.
This quality of the Purdue student body, coupled with Purdue's rigorous academic preparation, signal success and strong salaries in the global workplace, which also drives the value of a degree.
Beyond academics, our flagship universities also propel the Indiana economy. Fortunately, Purdue and IU are rowing together, synchronizing our strokes to help Indiana sail through these stormy seas and chart a new course. We have created the Indiana Innovation Alliance, a partnership that will develop our state's fundamental strength in the life sciences. This will bring in venture capital as well as support and attract high-tech companies. This, in turn, will provide jobs to keep our graduates in Indiana.
The alliance also will work to improve the health of all Indiana residents by expanding the number of doctors in the state and improving the delivery of health services.
Purdue and IU are a tremendous value. Be sure to thank your governor and state legislators.
Building on losses
January 5, 2009
To the editor:
In the last year, the lesson of "building on losses" has been brought home by two men new to their respective offices: Tom Crean and Barack Obama.
Last summer, Coach Crean was gracious enough to come and address a class of incoming international students in the Intensive English Program (IEP) at IU. He shared a bit of his life history and his strategy of coaching. In the end, one of the students asked Coach, "What do you do when you lose a game?"
Coach didn't blink; he told the student how he appraised losses, found the lessons in each loss, asked what the team could have done differently and planned for the future.
During the last campaign season, another IEP class watched a biographical show about Obama and the time he lost a congressional race in 2000. After the loss, Obama was asked about the defeat. He answered much the same way as Coach Crean. Obama said he looked for the lessons, found out what he could do differently and looked to the future.
As both the coach and the president-elect move into their respective first years, it's good to know that both men use losses to find victory in life.
Batchelor B-TV program still racking up awards
By Sarah Morin
January 5, 2009
Batchelor Middle School is dark and quiet except for some shining lights inside a lab classroom.
It's the day after New Year's Day, and the school is on holiday break, but participants in the school's B-TV production program are editing film and sending out promotional items.
This level of commitment and passion from the students has sparked a record number of film awards this school year.
Two films, "Sod Hagibor -- Secret of a Hero" and "Captain Kidd," will be shown starting later this month at 30 or so different venues around the country.
The student-produced films have been picked for the Kids' First national tour, running from Jan. 15 to April 15.
On the same November weekend, "Sod Hagibor" and "Captain Kidd" won top awards at two popular youth festivals. The students couldn't double-book, and decided to attend the AECT International Student Media Festival in Orlando, Fla., over the International Student Film Festival in Hollywood.
The films were among a record 56 projects in the AECT Festival.
Caleb Baechtold worked on both prize-winning films -- now contenders for top middle school film of the year.
He has top billing as writer and director of "Sod Hagibor," the true story of a German boxer who hid two Jewish boys in his home during Hitler's rule.
It took Baechtold two months to tell the story, which would become a 30-minute black-and-white film.
"You feel really accomplished when you finish something like that," Baechtold said Friday. "It takes a lot of time."
Baechtold, 15, is now a freshman at Bloomington South but continues his commitment at B-TV, showing up after school and even attending lab hours during holiday break -- not for money or for school credit, but for the enjoyment it brings. He started with B-TV as a sixth-grader, after hearing about it from his brother. Baechtold said it was interesting to be a young teenager directing adults in the film that he also wrote. B-TV teacher Jeff Rudkin said "Sod Hagibor" was the first film in the program's history to have age-appropriate actors. Three B-TV actors appear in the award-winning piece, including Andy Laszlo.
Baechtold called it fun and interesting to work with such good actors. He said the film shoot was spread out from last April to June, including shots inside Harmony School gymnasium and local houses.
The director of the Kids' First Festival wrote in an e-mail to Rudkin that she couldn't believe that middle school kids had produced "Sod Hagibor" when she saw it.
Working with Baechtold on just about all of his films are friends Criss Beyers and Kiel Perez.
"All three of us are able to dedicate a lot of time to it," Perez said.
Perez was producer and cameraman on "Captain Kidd" and Beyers was associate producer on "Sod Hagibor" and executive producer on "Captain Kidd." Both are also high school freshmen, but like Baechtold still make films with B-TV.
Baechtold said writing and directing are fields that he is considering in his future.
"It's kind of thrilling," Baechtold said of all the awards.
The fact that these local films are being shown alongside work from graduate students is a tremendous opportunity that will open doors, Rudkin said, adding that top film schools are aware of B-TV's reputation for great films.
The B-TV program started 14 years ago, and its legacy since then is in a glass case full of awards and certificates and in the talents of the alumni.
B-TV students produce documentaries, original screenplays, newscasts, music videos, sportscasts, animation and photography projects.
More than 300 students are involved, taking it either as an elective or as an extracurricular activity. And there are those students such as Baechtold and his friends, known as B-TV seniors, who stay with it even though they no longer attend Batchelor.
Baechtold's next piece will be a 10-minute documentary on health care in the U.S.