Berkeley Eighth Graders to Create Documentary on Operation Pedro Pan

Eighth graders at Berkeley Preparatory School have a unique class assignment that will tell the fascinating story of more than 14,000 Cuban children sent to the U.S. by their parents (from 1960 to 1962)to escape Cuban government indoctrination and out of fear they would not be allowed to educate their children.

The effort was called “Operation Pedro Pan” and the Berkeley students first learned about this little-known moment in history through an English department summer reading assignment entitled 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis. From that assignment, an idea was born out of the Berkeley English department to explore ways to tell the story of the children of Operation Pedro Pan from those who experienced it first-hand.

“We thought it would be a great experience for our eighth-graders to interview Pedro Pan participants and produce those sessions in a recorded series of documentaries,” said Susan Alexander, a Berkeley middle division English teacher. With the help of Buck Johnson, the assistant middle division director and a English teacher at the school, a collaborative effort between the school’s middle division English department and the history department was created in an effort to bring 50 years of Operation Pedro Pan history to life. The entire eighth grade class will participate in interviewing, filming and editing to produce a finished profile of the Pedro Pan interviewees. The class will work in groups of 5-6 students to complete the task.

One may wonder what do the history and English departments know about teaching kids about video interviewing and production? “We loved the idea but wondered how we were going to pull it off,” Alexander said. Enter Frank Governale, the father of two children attending Berkeley. Governale is the Vice President of Operations for CBS News and has always had an interest in volunteering his time to speak to Berkeley students about his industry. Following a conversation with Alexander and her colleagues, Governale generously offered to bring a CBS production team to Berkeley from New York for a two-day workshop with the students. The CBS team will instruct the students on many of the aspects and “tricks of the trade” for interviewing, camera operation, video editing and post-production. Following the workshop, the team will be on hand for the first interviews with the Pedro Pan participants who have agreed to share their stories. Thanks the generosity of Patsy Feliciano, a middle division Berkeley parent who reached out to the Cuban community, several of the Pedro Pans (as they call themselves) will be coming to Berkeley on October 11 to speak with the students.

Two of the more notable Pedro Pans that Feliciano was able to connect with includes Carlos Eire, Yale Professor of Religion and National Book Award winner for his Pedro Pan-related memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana and former U.S. Senator from Florida Mel Martinez, both of whom have agreed to participate in the documentary project. A group of Berkeley students will travel to Orlando on September 17 to conduct their first interview with Senator Martinez.


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