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Mira Costa Student To Be Featured in NYTimes Special Section

Mar 10, 2021 10:55AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Photo via Maddox Chen

A Mira Costa High School sophomore's multimedia creation will be featured in the New York Times tomorrow in a special section devoted to what life is like for teens during the pandemic. 

Maddox Chen, 15, created one of the winning entries in the New York Times' Learning Network Coming of Age multimedia contest. His entry, chosen from more than 5,500 submissions, is one of 35 entries that will be featured in print on Thursday in the newspaper's first-ever special section devoted entirely to the work of teens (excerpts of which can be seen online here).

Chen's entry is a Lego creation that he called "a physical mock-up of my typical spot for the past eight months: glued to a screen, whether that is my phone, laptop or the TV." It depicts a character with headphones in front of a giant screen with images of Joe Biden and Donald Trump in a sea of flames. 

"Politics has dominated everything this year, from racial, social and economic inequities to the simple act of wearing a mask. One cannot refer to this time without mentioning the diametrical struggle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden," Chen wrote in his entry.

Chen found out about the contest and was encouraged to enter by Michael Hernandez, his Cinematic Arts teacher at Mira Costa High School. Hernandez said that Chen is a strong student who consistently produces "multilayered and complex" projects. 

Chen's entry "speaks to the political turmoil in our country and at the same time addresses the childlike innocence of our students' lives while staying at home during the pandemic," Hernandez said.

He continued: "It's the visual equivalent of an essay or poem that is an allegory of our times. Oftentimes words fail us, and we find that the best way to express how we feel has to be done through images. I think it's on par with professional work that I've seen."

Pursuing Creative Passions During COVID

Chen frequently uses Legos to make stop motion animations, which he uploads to his YouTube Channel MC Studio Productions.

He said that the pandemic shutdown has given him more time at home and more freedom to pursue passion projects. "I’ve been given a lot more time to work on stop motion animation and other hobbies that I wouldn’t really have been able to pursue otherwise," he said.

Maddox Chen

Chen continued: "Recently I have been making more serious short animations, along with whimsical animations. The pandemic has given me time to hone [these] animating and filmmaking skills."

Chen said that it has been difficult to adapt to distance learning, and having to stay at home. But his family has coped by creating new habits such as setting time aside every night to do something together, whether it be a poker match or watching a TV show.

He is also looking forward to traveling again soon. "My family used to travel a lot, so it's been weird staying so long in the same place. Although I am lucky enough to live in such a picturesque beach town, being stuck in the same place for over a year has been difficult," he said. "I can’t imagine what it's been like for others who aren’t as fortunate."

Encouraging Students to Take A World View

Through Mira Costa's Media Arts program, which Hernandez founded 22 years ago, students have won many regional and national awards, earned recognition by national organizations, and received other distinctions such as being selected for film festivals.

"The quality of work our students produce is consistently at the highest levels, and being recognized by the New York Times validates that," said Hernandez. "It says to our students that their hard work and creative energy is meaningful to a lot of people."

Hernandez noted that this is a time when many students are looking for meaning in the school's curriculum and trying to figure out how it connects with their lives and the outside world. That's why he designs assignments that allow students to follow their passions, and encourages them to publish their work publicly through digital portfolios, newscasts, social media posts, newsletters, and more.

"We live and work and learn in a globally connected world, and I design my curriculum and assignments to acknowledge that context," said Hernandez. "I say to my kids all the time that they should never complete their assignments just to please me or to create them for an audience of one, but to share with a global audience. Their work can have an impact on peoples' lives and help provide new ways of seeing the world and each other."

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