Philo: The Hamilton Project

Clay Riness

Cam Segura
Cam Segura

If you’re going to think, think big, but keep it grassroots.

“Since our essential mission in Philo is to pair nonprofits with other businesses,” says Cam Segura, “we immediately started looking for those entities to partner with when we first started up. The first entity that we found was Hamilton Elementary (SOTA) School though a retired teacher who’d been receiving feedback from parents concerned about the lack of a culturally diversified curriculum. We considered this problem and thought that the two tools we try to use most, collective social energy and incorporation of digital media, could somehow help. We just didn’t know how.”

Segura had a college project that was aimed at teaching Latin-American history through film. He made the decision to reorganize the project so that it fit for Hamilton. He took his team into Hamilton, identified the different demographics present through in-classroom research, and made note of what the school was already doing in terms of teaching media literacy and cultural history.

Media literacy, according to Segura, is the ability to critically analyze what’s on the screen rather than interpret it as real life. Essentially, we can be taught to identify biases that are put into commercials, videos, newscasts, films and other forms of media. These biases amount to nothing less than someone’s agenda, he says. “That agenda may be to change your mind politically or to convince you that Nikes will make you a better athlete. We want to teach how to interpret these things appropriately, and the reason we thought this was so important, especially at Hamilton, is because it’s filled with younger children.”

Indeed, how you teach media literacy to a fifth grader is much different than how an adult would be taught. In designing the curriculum, Segura’s team created in its first section a hands-on introduction to the conventions used to control the mood of a shot, such as lighting and camera angle. He says, “This helps show students that there’s a world behind the screen, an artistic process that we need to be aware of, because oftentimes, they (the producers, etc.) have an opinion that they’re trying to get across. That’s why it’s important to incorporate the media literacy aspect into teaching history through film.”

Although the project began in November 2015, the curriculum hasn’t been implemented yet. Philo has been working with teachers and staff to develop it. Once the in-classroom research was finished, they turned to the job of obtaining the content for the curriculum, and that, says Segura, is the really tricky part. “Finding movies that are OK for fifth graders but are also immersed enough in a culture’s history to be conveying relevant parts of it, for instance, Hmong culture… that’s an extremely difficult task. So now, we’re harnessing collective social energy. We’re bringing in our Hmong and Latino nonprofits and asking them what cultural movies exist in their world, and if can we use them.”

Another possibility is the use of cultural (folk) tales, which Philo could produce in video form. But according to Segura, right now they’re still pretty wrapped up in communicating with the entities involved in recommending films straight out of their own cultures for the curriculum.

“This is important work because it has to do with history and identity,” he continues. “If you’re living in an area that sometimes has trouble introducing parts of its minorities to the majority … that’s an essential part of trying to grow as a diverse community, which I see La Crosse trying to do.”

While the Hamilton Project is one of Philo’s first, the door is wide open to do more good work. Philo is having no problem finding nonprofits to engage in partnering, but it’s more difficult finding businesses to become involved. “Business has a massive amount of power in our day-to-day lives. That power can be utilized in such an incredible way, but often it’s not. What we’re trying to do is, in the most convenient way for the business, introduce these local issues through conversation, determine which nonprofits will work best to partner with, and facilitate solving those problems as a team.”

Segura and his team are hoping to hand over the first of the curriculum to Hamilton teachers by the end of 2017.

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Clay Riness  author

Clay Riness is a freelance writer and photographer from Coon Valley. His photography can be found at