Baldwin junior tells bioswale story in award-winning film

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:15 p.m.

A mix of shrubs, perennials and grasses planted along the slope at the entrance to Baldwin High School has helped to deter rainwater from pouring onto state Route 51 for the last several months.

Jill Weida, 16, a Baldwin junior, watched last summer as friends were displaced from their homes because of flooding. The planting of a bioswale, or rain garden, in front of her school seemed like a start to help curb the problem, she said.

“It's almost revolutionary in (the) sense of bringing a new idea to something that's always been there,” Weida said of the plan that connects local nonprofits, the Baldwin-Whitehall School District and Whitehall Borough. “I was intrigued by it. I was like, ‘This story has to be told.'”

So, she did just that.

As a filmmaker since the fourth grade, for Weida, the bioswale, built last year, was a chance to share a story with the Pittsburgh region.

Weida won three awards — best storytelling, viewer's choice and grand prize — at the Carnegie Science Center's i5 Digital Video Competition, presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Filmmakers, for the five-minute and 30-second short-documentary, “Closing the Floodgates: Building the Baldwin Bioswale,” that chronicles the construction and need for the rain garden.

Weida became interested in film as a fourth-grader when she attended the Chatham University Music and Arts summer camp.

She took a video product class and has been in love with film ever since.

“It allows me to tell a story. It allows me to emotionally move the audience,” Weida said.

Her teacher at the camp was from Baldwin High School. Brad Schulte was teaching a summer class at Chatham for the youngsters, a connection that Weida has kept throughout the years, she said.

Weida has made about 10 films in the last eight years.

She starts with an idea, writes the script plans the costumes and pays close attention to every element.

“I just like every single part of it,” Weida said.

She entered her first competition last year, the i5 contest at the Science Center. She liked it because it was local and focused on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The i5 Digital Video Competition is a program of the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development. Working individually or in teams, students are tasked with creating videos that showed how STEM plays in role in their lives.

The goal is to get students excited about STEM and, hopefully, encourage them to pursue a career in it, said Geri Baker, who oversees STEM programs at the Science Center.

Last year, Weida created a video, “Stepping Forward,” chronicling Pittsburgh's history and environment by tracking people's feet as they walked through time periods in different shoes.

“That was actually one of the most fun projects that I've ever worked on,” Weida said. “It was telling the story of the city. ”

She shot the entire video upside-down, stepping through her backyard and Mt. Washington. She won “most artistic” in the i5 Digital Video competition.

That, “was one of the most motivating things that has ever happened to me,” Weida said.

That led her to create another video.

This time, she worked with leaders from Economic Development South and the Penn State Center, which received a grant for the bioswale project at Baldwin High School, along with Superintendent Randal Lutz.

“They helped educate me on what a bioswale was and how it's going to be contributing to the environment. I feel that they had as much to do with the success of the video as I did,” Weida said.

Working with so many “very important people” was one of the highlights of making the film, Weida said.

Each person treated her like an adult and took the video seriously, she said. “She did an excellent job,” Baker said. “It's the epitome of what someone could have done for a project like this.”

Weida, who already has her own filmmaking equipment, plans to go into the business — she just doesn't know what aspect yet. She has served as an apprentice with the Pittsburgh Filmmakers and attended a camp at Point Park University, where she learned about screenwriting, budgeting and time management.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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