Signal Mountain school wins $100,000 for 'Don't be a Pirate' driving safety video

Signal Mountain school wins $100,000 for 'Don't be a Pirate' driving safety video

School eligible to win private concert from Echosmith

November 20th, 2015 by Staff Report and Meg Scarbrough in Local Regional News

With the help of an awkward pirate and a set of golf clubs, a group of Signal Mountain students claimed victory — and some treasure — in a national video contest this week.

On Friday, Signal Mountain Middle High School was named one of 22 schools in the U.S. that will receive a $100,000 grant from the State Farm "Celebrate My Drive" contest. The Signal Mountain school was among 100 finalists chosen for the online voting competition, which ended Tuesday. One of the top 22 schools will score a concert with the band Echosmith, with the winner to be announced on Dec. 10.

The 30-second video, which features a pirate with a hook trying to swing a golf club, was made by 19 film students in teacher Matt Doebler's class.

Doebler said the students — Kevin Cecil, Rachel Dagnan, Jesse Dawson, Brad Gaskill, Katharine Gruber, James Johnson, Phillip Lamsey, Kevin Lee, Paige Maloney, Kevin McCaffrey, Austin Murphy, Elizabeth Ortiz, Lily Payne, Thomas Porter, Chris Ragland, Hanna Skinner, Jack Skowronnek, Rowan Spraker and Dreanna Wildman — handled everything.

"Working with my students on this project and seeing the support of our community as they got out the vote has been one of the highlights of my teaching career," Doebler said a school news release.

The project was entirely student-driven down to the idea of using a pirate — played by Doebler.

"It was a great experience — from the planning phase to the actual filming process to finding out [Friday] that our class had won," McCaffrey said. "There was a lot that went into the commercial before we even began, like learning how to use all the film equipment and brainstorming, planning and agreeing as a group what we wanted our final concept and message to be."

"We were able to take an idea and create something meaningful and fun from it and everyone contributed to it. Seeing that process from beginning to end and being a part of it was really cool," Cecil said.

It was the quality of the video and the message that caught one parent's attention, who commended the students' accomplishment Friday evening.

"When I watched their entry for the first time, I thought it was a professionally done commercial and I asked, 'OK, but where is your group's film?'" Nancy McCaffrey said with a laugh. "I am so impressed with their creative work and the outstanding leadership from their teacher. And I'm impressed at our community, who was paying attention and [who] took the time to vote."

Signal Mountain will use $22,000 of the grant to support a teen driver safety program. The remainder of the money will be used for general school needs defined by the high school and approved by State Farm, according to the news release.

The national contest was part of State Farm's effort to encourage teens to drive safely and reduce traffic deaths.

"We really want our students to understand that getting behind the wheel should never be done lightly. We want our students to learn and practice good driver habits now, while they are young, so that they will become lifelong habits," school principal Robin Copp said.