HACKENSACK, NJ -- Two sophomores at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack have received honorable mentions from a national competition for a documentary they created on diversity and immigration in America.

The students, Erin Alonso and Olivia Lord, enrolled in C-SPAN’s 2019 StudentCam competition, which asks “What Does it Mean to Be American?” and used their design teacher’s cameras to film their documentary "A Sense of Belonging."

“Although we are good friends, we had not worked on a project together before this. I really enjoyed working with Erin on the documentary,” said Olivia.

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“A Sense of Belonging” focuses on diversity and immigration in American history, and what America will look like in the future. This was Erin’s first video project, which she called a rite of passage. Olivia has previously entered the C-SPAN StudentCam competition with a video about the effect of homework on student mental health.

“There is so much more to making a video than the content that the viewer actually sees.  What ended up as a six-minute long video came from over an hour of interview footage. That hour of interview footage came from weeks of research and preparation.  We found most of our interview subjects months in advance,” said Erin.

“We looked further into the topics that we were focusing on in the documentary and found people who were knowledgeable in that subject. We found experts in Immigration History, Immigration Law, and Politics,” said Olivia. “When we needed someone who knew about the history of immigration, we spoke to Judy Giuriceo, a curator at Ellis Island. Since we also spoke about Immigration Law in our video, we interviewed Rose Cuison Villazor, a Professor of Immigration Law at Rutgers University.”

Since 2006, C-SPAN has partnered with its local cable television providers across the country to present the competition. Each year, students are asked to produce short documentary films on a subject of national importance.

More than 6,300 students from 48 states participated in this year’s contest, which posed the question: "What does it mean to be American? Choose a constitutional right, national characteristic, or historic event and explain how it defines the American experience." 

"This year, students clearly stepped up their approach to deliver thoughtful and diverse responses to our competition theme, which reflects enormous time and effort put into the research and construction of their documentaries," said C-SPAN's Manager of Education Relations Craig McAndrew.

In Hackensack, C-SPAN is available locally through Optimum by Altice USA.

"We at Altice USA are proud to join C-SPAN in congratulating Erin and Olivia as honorable mention winners," Said Lee Schroeder, EVP Government and Community Affairs at Altice USA.

Although Olivia and Erin are good friends they had not worked on a project together before this.

“I really enjoyed working with Erin on the documentary,” said Olivia.

With the documentary behind her, Erin is currently wrapping up her AP Studio Art portfolio, which contains a series of paintings about the California Wildfires.  “I was moved the capture the scenes because I felt the enormity of it.”

This summer, Olivia will begin looking at art colleges, where she will study graphic design.

As part of the Visual Art Program, they are continuing to explore different mediums of art such as 3D modeling and printing, web design, watercolor painting, and printmaking. Their six minute documentary "A Sense of Belonging" can be watched online.