Menlo News May 24, 2024

MTerm Project Earns C-SPAN Documentary Award

Senior’s short film about affordable housing completed for MTerm last year awarded in C-SPAN’s StudentCam competition.

Alex ’24 first became aware of the issue of homelessness at a young age, growing up in New York City. He remembers a homeless man outside his childhood apartment building, frequently advising him to “stay in school.” The memory stuck. Then, during his freshman year at Menlo, when COVID closed schools, overwhelmed hospitals, and upended communities across the globe, housing insecurity became headline news. Fortunately this time, Alex was of an age to do something about it.

Alex learned that to prevent COVID outbreaks, San Francisco shelters cut capacity by as much as 76%, forcing many unhoused individuals onto the streets. The number of visible tents and encampments in San Francisco reportedly increased by 285%.

The following summer, Alex became involved in the Community Action Summer Experience (CASE), organized by Menlo’s community engagement club, KnightVision to empower students to take action on pressing issues that matter to them. He spent weeks researching the impacts of COVID on homelessness in San Francisco, interviewing local stakeholders and raising awareness about the issue by making a mini-documentary, building a website, and distributing digital flyers.

“I was inspired to pursue this project because I think homelessness and affordable housing are big issues in our community,” said Alex. “My goals were to help people understand the complexity of the issue as well as humanize the stories of those who experience or are at risk of homelessness.”

Alex continued his social justice work during his sophomore and junior years, opting for independent study projects during MTerm. “Frankly, he just rocks,” remarked his advisor, Upper School English Teacher Oscar King, adding: “Whether he’s engaged in manual community-service labor or researching/writing a paper (or editing a video essay!), Alex embodies contemplative, diligent leadership coupled with analytical and creative prowess. He is dedicated to improving himself and his fellows, and he brings a high level of buy-in to each activity that finds him.”

Alex’s brother Oliver, a junior at Crystal Springs, eventually became involved with the project as well. The two expanded beyond the impacts of the pandemic to explore more chronic, systemic, and controversial issues affecting the availability of affordable housing in the Bay Area. They became particularly intrigued by a heated affordable housing debate in Atherton, researching California state-ordered mandates, interviewing local politicians, and tuning into town council meetings.

The two brothers refined Alex’s original documentary to create NIMBYism: Why Affordable Housing is so Difficult in California and submitted it to C-SPAN’s StudentCam competition. Out of more than 3,200 entries nationwide, the boys’ film made the top 150. Their story was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle. In May, the brothers were honored by C-SPAN at Menlo with Atherton Mayor Diana Hawkins-Manuelian in attendance. US Senator Laphonza Butler sent a letter encouraging them to “continue using their voices to make a positive impact.”

Learn more about Alex’s work at