North Marion High students tackle climate change in C-Span documentary contest

In this screenshot, North Marion High students Aubrey Payton, left, and Elias Wyckoff are shown narrating in their mini-documentary "Climate Change, A Rising Degree Threat."

RACHEL — Aubrey Payton and Elias Wyckoff started last school year interviewing students and teachers for North Marion High's broadcasting class.

They interviewed politicians from West Virginia, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.), for a documentary that went on to air on C-Span for its StudentCam contest.

"Each year, they ask students to produce a documentary about the issues of the time, and about what's going on in the world," said Wyckoff, a rising senior at North Marion High. "The guidelines were 'Produce a 5-minute documentary about an important issue you want the new presidential candidates to address.'"

"Climate Change, A Rising Degree Threat," is the product of months of work by Wyckoff and Payton. The documentary is just over five minutes long, and tackles the topic of climate change from a local political perspective and features interviews with West Virginia Del. Evan Hansen, (D-51), Logan Thorne, director of the West Virginia Center on Climate Change, and Manchin.

Payton, also a rising senior at North Marion, said she and Wyckoff both thought climate change was an important issue that isn't as talked about as it should be.

"One day, it was funny because we were both like 'Why don't we just do climate change?'" Payton said. "We realized climate change is a really big issue, not just for our country, but worldwide. Our politicians aren't talking about this issue, so we thought it would be a really good idea to do."

Josie Plachta, a journalism teacher at North Marion High, worked with the two students on the documentary and helped them submit it to C-Span. She said she chose Wyckoff and Payton for the project because of their interest in video and their work ethic.

"They're really good students," Plachta said. "They go above and beyond, they put themselves out of their comfort zone, they're willing to work the extra hours. It was really so rewarding to watch them go through the experience because I feel like they've learned a lot."

Wyckoff and Payton's documentary received an honorable mention from C-Span, out of thousands of submissions from across the country.

"They had a category that was 'Honorable Mentions' that was after first, second and third place," Plachta said. "C-Span really goes out of their way to provide students with unique opportunities, and they go above and beyond for live recognitions."

Payton said they began working on the documentary around September and it took months to compile footage and write and edit video they used to tell the story. According to Plachta, Wyckoff did much of the writing for the documentary, and Payton did much of the video editing.

"We didn't know at all how it was going to turn out," Wyckoff said. "I wrote the first draft of the script within the first week of the project. Then that script was changed, changed again... we worked from the basic outline and adapted where we saw necessary."

Payton said she put video together that was C-Span B-roll, along with some stand up narration featuring her and Wyckoff.

"One of the requirements was we had to use some of their videos that they have posted online," Payton said. "We had to pick out what videos we wanted, and we had about seven different ones."

Just weeks into the project, the two students interviewed Hansen. Weeks later, the documentary crew traveled to Washington, D.C. with the class to interview Manchin.

"It was a lot of learning on the fly," Wyckoff said. "I went from never interviewing somebody to interviewing a U.S. Senator in the course of two weeks."

Although both students agreed the process was nerve-racking, they enjoyed it and were happy to be able to learn, and pass knowledge on to others.

"I really enjoyed the experience being exposed to everything," Wyckoff said. "It kind of got me more interested in politics than I've ever really been. Seeing all these senators, seeing what they go through, seeing the decisions they make; that really turned my mind towards government."

Plachta said the students' trip to Washington made a huge impact on the kids.

"The work that we do in school, we're just interviewing people in the building, whether it's administrators, but it's usually students or teachers," Plachta said. "For them to interview people who are public officials, that was a really big deal for them."

After going through the whole process, Wyckoff and Payton said their beliefs in the importance of the issue of climate change has grown even stronger. Wyckoff said he found that immediate change is necessary to help reverse the effects humans have made on the environment.

"I think the most shocking thing I learned was how little time we have before we reach the point of no return where we can no longer repair the damage we have done to the climate," Wyckoff said. "It's crazy to me that that's just a 2-degree increase."

Payton said she, too, wants to put more effort into not only making change, but making others aware of the changes that need to be made to help save the planet.

"My biggest takeaway for this project is to get out there and do more things," Payton said. "Climate change is a thing. It's an everyday issue and it's not going away unless we start now."

Payton and Wyckoff's mini-doc, "Climate Change, A Rising Degree Threat," is available to view on YouTube.

Email Eddie Trizzino at and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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News Reporter

Eddie Trizzino has been a reporter with the Times West Virginian since August of 2017, covering the entertainment, business and health beats. He spends most of his time listening to records, going to the movies and strolling through the town.

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