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Young videographer asks: 'Why are you homeless?'

Published May 23, 2007

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[Times photo: Nick Johnson]
Perkins Elementary second-grader Andy Levy, who turned 8 last month, created a documentary called Why Are You Homeless?

ST. PETERSBURG - As a first-grader at Perkins Elementary, Andy Levy entered the Jim Harbin Student Media Festival video contest and placed third in the state with a comedy about his little brother. This year he turned his camera on a more serious topic: homelessness.

Andy's video won first place for the documentary category, kindergarten through second grade, in the county's 2007 Educational Media Awards contest, and placed second in the regional Student Media Festival Judging.

He used what he had learned in his multimedia course at Perkins to write, shoot and edit the documentary video.

His method was simple: Go right to the source and ask, "Why are you homeless?"

But the answers are not so simple.

"Me and my dad, every day when we drive to school, we see homeless people, " Andy said.

It was on these morning drives that Andy and his dad, Art Levy, discussed the issues that concerned the second-grader.

"We talk about ethics and religion, and anything he's interested in that day, " Levy said. But when Andy had questions about the homeless people, Levy didn't know how to answer them.

That's when they decided it would be a good topic to explore in Andy's video.

So Andy, with his dad in tow, went down to the overpass near St. Vincent de Paul to interview some of the people living there. Just a week before the tents were slashed by police, Andy asked his question.

Several of the people responded that they had been in jail; others claimed to have been taken advantage of. Andy still wasn't sure why people are homeless.

"It's too complicated to answer in a couple of sentences, so he admitted he didn't understand, and I thought that was good, " Levy said.

Students were required to do the creative work on their own, with only minimal coaching from parents or teachers. Andy learned to shoot and edit videos with the help of Anne Smith, the technology coordinator at Perkins. He was one of the 10 students there who advanced to the regional competition this year.

"For a second-grader to have so much insight is pretty amazing, " Smith said. "The concept is way above and beyond, just having the thoughts about homeless people."

Andy's concept also inspired a larger project that took place between student at Perkins and the residents of what was "tent city."

Anne Weller, Andy's gifted-program teacher, used his idea to start a dialogue between her students who were curious about the issue and the people best qualified to answer, the homeless.

"His idea made me think, 'Wow - you can ask questions, ' " Weller said.

When Andy gets to fourth grade he will have the option of choosing a video focus, but for now Andy is just looking forward to third grade. As far as the media contest goes, Andy plans to make another video, but he isn't sure what the subject will be.

"I just finished on the other movie and nobody gets ideas that fast, at least not in my family, " Andy said.

Nick Johnson can be reached at or 893-8361.

[Last modified May 22, 2007, 20:32:55]

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