Saugerties students take home awards in dating violence video contest


Saugerties High School students Michael Averill and Erin Blank with Ulster County Commissioner of Social Services Michael Iapoce.

Two students enrolled in the Saugerties High School computer video production (CVP) program won awards earlier this month in Ulster County’s third annual teen dating violence video contest. Michael Averill, who just finished his junior year, placed second with his short film. Erin Blank, who just finished her sophomore year, came in third.

Films were submitted by students from Saugerties, Kingston and Ellenville high schools, with a trio of filmmakers from Ellenville taking the top prize. The contest was formed by a subcommittee of the county Inter-Agency Council on Domestic Violence. Student filmmakers submitted short films promoting awareness of unhealthy or abusive relationships.


Each of the winning films looked at the topic from a different angle. Averill’s used a piano score and dramatic footage showing the emotional impact of an unhealthy relationship. Blank’s opened with a conversation voiceover while a young victim’s injured face and neck is shown.

“I watched a lot of different films over the years, and a lot of them use the violence aspect of it,” said Averill, whose video also included a biblical verse.

“I just thought I wanted to do something different, so I did more of an emotional appeal in my video,” said Averill. “I wanted it to stand out. The three winning videos were all very different. They all depicted a different side of it, but they all showed how serious the topic is.”

Blank spent three or four weeks working on her film. She assembled a list of shots, composed a script, got approval from computer video production teacher Scott Wickham, and filmed and edited her work at the high school.

Blank said was guided by the seriousness of the subject. “What inspired me was seeing other people getting the message out there,” she said. “Around the world there were news reports on the topic. I just wanted to get my message out there.”

According to statistics provided by the county, one in three high-school girls are victims of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner; and one in ten has been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Averill and Blank were both in their second year of CVP courses.

Averill had submitted a film with a group of fellow students a year ago. “It was mandatory that we did a PSA [public service announcement], and our teacher gave us options, and one of the options was the teen-dating-violence PSA through Ulster County,” he said. “I wasn’t a winner then. But we get to make individual projects in our second year, so I decided I really wanted to make one with my ideas.”

Contest winners were presented with certificates from county executive Michael Hein and gift cards from the contest committee. At a recognition ceremony at Saugerties High earlier this month, Averill and Blank were honored by Ulster County social-services commissioner Michael Iapoce and Saugerties police chief Joseph Sinagra, respectively chair and a member of the Inter-Agency Council on Domestic Violence.

“The council continues to be appreciative and inspired by the response and interest from area high schools in the teen dating violence video contest,” said Iapoce. “This year’s contest demonstrates that students are aware of the need to be informed about and to educate their peers on the subject of teen dating violence by using their creative talents to produce videos that they can relate to.The council is proud to sponsor this event and appreciates county executive Hein’s continued support in raising awareness of domestic violence. Congratulations to all of the high-school administrators, staff and students that participated in raising awareness about this important issue.”

Sinagra said students often offer the most effective ways of reaching fellow students on the importance of serious subjects. “It is through our youth that we can make everlasting changes in the way peer relationships are developed and nurtured absent domestic violence,” he said.

Hein, who was unable to attend the ceremony at Saugerties High, said in a press release that he believed the student films would make a difference. “I want to congratulate the students on their outstanding videos and thank them, and their dedicated teachers, for helping raise awareness of the national issue of teen dating violence,” he said in that release …. We hope that these videos will be seen by their peers, helping others recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship, and direct teens to the resources that are available if they find themselves in or observing an abusive situation.”

The three winning videos can be seen at: