Wilton High Schoolers win statewide teen driving video contest

Photo of J.D. Freda

WILTON — Two Wilton High School students secured a combined $1,300 in personal winnings and helped win another $6,000 for the school in a statewide video contest that they hope will also make their peers safer drivers.

Natalie Johnson and Finnegan Ryder, both students in Maria Naeem’s video production course at the high school, were named award recipients for their teen safe driving public service announcements submitted to a statewide contest sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles and Travelers Insurance.

Johnson spent weeks producing the video leading up to the end of the school year. She said she was very excited when she heard she had placed this summer.

She ended up being recognized as having produced one of the best 45-second PSAs in the state, but Johnson wasn’t sure if she would even submit her video initially.

“I did not want to send out my video, like at all, because I didn’t think it was good,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think it was my best work, so to see that somebody recognized it was actually kind of validating, in a way.”

Johnson earned third place overall in the competition and was awarded $700. She also was recognized for a creativity award, and a “use of different media” award that netted her an additional $400. Her efforts directly resulted in the school getting $5,000.

Johnson’s video showed the dangers that distracted driving could have on a young driver and how looking at one text could change a family’s life forever.

Ryder was also acknowledged with a creativity award, tying with his classmate Johnson, and was awarded $200 himself while earning the school $500.

Wilton High School also submitted more than 20 videos, the most of any school in the state, and earned an additional $500.

Naeem, who oversaw Johnson’s project along with all of her classmates’ work, said she pushed Johnson to submit what she thought was a well put together video.

“Natalie submitted it the day it was due,” Naeem recalled. “I said, ‘did you submit?’ She said ‘No, I don’t know about it.’ I said that she is getting on this computer and submitting it.”

The video was Johnson’s first-ever PSA. While her teacher played a large role in her confidence to submit it, she and Ryder also said that the entire class watched each others’ early drafts and provided honest and supportive feedback to make the videos more creative.

“The class did give them good feedback, what they liked, what they didn’t like,” Naeem said applauding the students’ honesty.

Johnson said she appreciated the comments.

“If I hadn’t gotten feedback from (Naeem) and if I hadn’t gotten any from my classmates, I don’t think I would have placed because it just wouldn’t have been as impactful as the final version,” she said.

Ryder called the award one of his first real accomplishments of high school. It was also his first PSA, but he said he could see himself doing more videos in this style. He is already entrenched in a bevy of personal video production projects outside of school.

His video, tonally different from Johnson’s, incorporated elements of humor. He used a driver taking sips of coffee as the distraction in the plot.

The hope for both students was that their message came across to the right audience.

“Knowing that people understood the message and remember that video is enough for me to feel great about it,” Ryder said.

Johnson concurred, adding that the dire circumstances of distracted driving acted as a worthy springboard to cull motivation from.

“It was a motivator knowing that what I was producing could actually be worth something,” Johnson said, adding that if maybe one student recalled her video in real-time, maybe they would make a different decision.

Naeem said Johnson and Ryders’ PSAs have left some impact on the class, Naeem said.

“A couple of the kids told me, ‘I was driving, I was going to drink my coffee, but Finn’s video came into my head,’” Naeem said. “That’s all they need, is that one thought that somebody’s video stuck in their head of drinking that coffee, and they put their coffee down. So there is a real message and we really tried to spread that.”