27 May 2009 Students draw on Jewish tradition for animation contest Students at the ORT Gesher School in Samara have taken top places for their entries to a Russia-wide animation competition. The First Steps competition, which was co-founded by Mikhail Gorbachevs International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, attracted a total of more than 2,400 entries this year from high schools, colleges and creative groups across the country. The ORT Gesher Schools entries beat more than 300 rivals in each of their categories. Year 5 students Holocaust-themed film Chocolate Bar won the Evariste Galois Medal the competitions main prize in the History of Peoples category. And two films produced by students in Years 1 to 4, Jonah and The Flood, received First Class Diplomas in the Spiritual Universe of Human Beings category. This is a magnificent achievement, said ORT Russia National Director Dr Viacheslav Leshchiner. These prizes were awarded for innovative multimedia projects made by students using sophisticated software with deep Jewish content. For me it is a real sign of respect and acknowledgment of ORT Russias achievements in education by non-Jewish society. Chocolate Bar was a project pursued as part of the schools Jewish History course to help the children feel as well as understand the catastrophe of the Holocaust, said Primary teacher Marina Strygina. The film tells the story of a girl who shared her chocolate bar with an old woman in the cattle car to the death camp. In gratitude, the old woman gives the girl a precious ring which she later uses to bribe a camp guard to rescue her mother and brother from the gas chamber. The project helped to create an atmosphere in the lessons which provoked their sympathy for the victims, she said. The students not only learned Jewish history better they have a stronger personal connection to what happened. The films Jonah and The Flood are also examples of the project-based learning pioneered by ORT in the Former Soviet Union. They are just two examples of the films which the children produce on the themes of Torah Texts and Heroes and Jewish Holidays as part of their Jewish Studies course. Jewish Studies teacher Simona Fleisher, who supervised the Torah Texts and Heroes project, said: I try to create a special spiritual atmosphere which provokes students not to be passive observers but to take a keen interest in the spiritual heritage of the Jewish People. By creating animated films the students become active participants in the project. In addition, the students acquire the ability to undertake independent research and study and imbibe values of tolerance, she said. Roman Meerson, who graduated from ORT Gesher last year and now studies Computer Science at Samara State University, provided technical support for the production of the films. He said that helping the children at his old school was a way of thanking World ORT for giving him the chance to study computer science deeply before going on to university. At the same time, his involvement was helping him in his undergraduate computer studies. The project gave me the opportunity to master new computer programmes and to improve my skills in the computer processing of sound, video and static images, he said. And it has been great to work with children. It is fascinating to observe how gradually, from one shot to the next, from one film to the next, the children stop being afraid of the microphone and start reading the text more fluently. One of the children, Year 3 student Lera Akulina, said making animated films was her favourite class. We have already made four films, each one using different techniques, Lera said. Its so exciting to see the final result of our work and to hear our voices in the mouths of the animated characters. A delighted Alexander Fradkov, Director of the ORT Technology Centre at the school, said: Using the technical facilities provided by ORT, the schools teachers combine traditional and modern methods to bring out the very best in their students. Projects such as this make learning fun for the children and stimulate them to develop their creativity while they learn technical skills and deepen their knowledge and understanding of the subjects.