Film project helps Riverdale Grade School students learn about mental stability and camaraderie

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Vittoria Corvelli (from left) Olivia Corvelli and Sophie Fowler are among a group of Riverdale Grade School students who collaborated on What Gets in the Way, a two-part film that offers tips for youngsters who find themselves in difficult situations.SUBMITTED PHOTO - What Gets in the Way aims to offer people coping skills in times of need. Riverdale Grade School students performed skits to get that point across, including Annabella Corvelli (in back) and Vittoria Corvelli.Sixth-grader Vittoria Corvelli says the movie she made with fellow Riverdale Grade School students offers important lessons, and she envisions a positive response after kids see “What Gets in the Way I and II.”

When they watch this, they’ll think that “it wasn’t a boring movie that they were being forced to watch by their parents,” the 10-year-old explains. “It was a nice, fun movie that also taught you something.”

The two-part series provides tips for psychological stability when in difficult situations, such as deep breathing to counteract an anxiety attack, techniques to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and tips to handle a fight-or-flight impulse. Nonprofit broadcaster Portland Community Media will be showing the movies, which also are available on Vimeo.

Vittoria’s mother, Jill Corvelli, is a mental health counselor who works in community health and in private practice, and she says she had an epiphany one night that led to the project.

“In my work as a mental health counselor, it always is such a powerful moment when people get to identify ‘that thing in their way’ and blast through it, or find a work-around,” Corvelli says. “Oftentimes, it is something so actionable, and I hear clients say, ‘Why didn’t I learn about this years ago?’ or ‘They should teach this kind of stuff to you in school.’”

So Corvelli decided to find a way to teach mental health stability skills to kids, and she tapped her film-making hobby to make it happen. She brought together a group of Riverdale Grade School students — from fourth-graders to eighth-graders — and helped them make a movie to help other people while learning the lessons themselves. Her three daughters were an integral part of the team.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jill Corvelli, a mental health counselor and Riverdale Grade School parent, walks through a circle of students as they put together a film on strategies for maintaining mental stability. Clockwise from upper right: Lillie Banks, Annabella Corvelli, Sophie Sperry, Lili Sellers, Olivia Corvelli, Ben Banks, Jonah Song and Ethan Hyde.  Corvelli says the idea grew after she shared it with Vittoria and her other two daughters, eighth-grader Annabella and ninth-grader Olivia.

“They put their fun spin on it,” Corvelli says. “It was going to be sort of more documentary-ish, until the kids twisted it into what would be fun for kids. I planted the seed, and they watered it.”

To finish their project, the Corvellis and the other group members worked together every Friday night in the Corvellis’ loft from January to June. They came up with skits to demonstrate the skills they were trying to teach, such as a nervous bride taking deep breaths on her wedding day.

Olivia’s favorite concept was to think of three positive things for every negative thing to keep sad thoughts at bay. She also was fascinated with the concept of determining when to know if your fight-or-flight response is legitimate and when to ignore it. She says she believes such modes of thinking can lead to a healthy life.

“It’s things you could use that could help you in everyday life,” she says.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Riverdale students enjoyed learning what goes on behind the camera.Annabella says she loved hanging out with friends and spending time behind and in front of the camera.

“I’ve seen so many movies, and it all looks so real and so perfect,” she says. “It was kind of fun to experience being on the other side and discovering that it’s not all easy, that you have to memorize your lines and work on your parts. It takes some work.”

Ben Banks, now an incoming ninth-grader at Riverdale High School, says he found the experience to be educational, especially learning to breathe properly and always trying to stay positive when talking to other people.

“All of it was a great experience,” Ben says. “I had a lot of fun doing it, and it feels like it’s going to help me in the future if I ever wanted to be in a school play or something like that.”

He adds that he’d love to be in a school play.

Sixth-grader Sophie Fowler also learned a great deal, enjoying the role of the nervous bride in one scene and an ant in another. She says she found it challenging to memorize lines and to stay silent while the crew was filming because microphones pick up everything.

“It’s kind of easier for them, adults, because they can remember lines easier than we can, and they’re quieter on the set than we are,” Sophie says.

Her mom, Nancy Fowler, says she was touched by the camaraderie of the students, the way they all connected with each other and with Sophie, even though she was one of the youngest children in the filming group.

“At school, they all really acknowledged each other, and that age bracket piece was kind of lost,” says Fowler, adding that the kids even had lunch together a time or two.

Corvelli says at heart, she loved how the children came together and hopes to spread the word that everyone has a vast ability to feel, but there are ways to keep feelings from overwhelming you.

“If you’re not happy, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, but the reality is the normal human feels a whole range of emotions,” she says. “What we can strive for is to be psychologically flexible.”

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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