Sophomores Earn Top Honors for New York Times Competition

As a creative project in English II, students in Laura Holmgren's and Elsie Dang's classes produced short vocabulary video entries for The New York Times's 11th-annual competition. Mariana G. and Camellia D., both ’26, earned top honors with their clever illustration of "kvetch." More than 1,2000 students around the world participated in the challenge of defining one of the paper’s “Words of the Day” in 15 seconds or less with exciting results.
As Laura shared, "The development of a strong, varied, and sophisticated vocabulary allows students to express themselves more precisely. With this year's English curriculum redesign that led to the writing-intensive English II course, we have spent significant time on vocabulary study. The competition provided a creative way to explore words further. While many of the words the students learn were options, many individuals and pairs choose words from the list that intrigued them for some reason."
The entries required students to follow specific directions for the videos' content and the submission process, including crafting an artist statement. 
Mariana and Camellia shared with PolyNews, “We began our filmmaking process by examining the list of words and determining which ones sparked ideas and whose meanings we had a good grasp of. Next, we began brainstorming possible ideas, and that's when we came up with our idea for ‘kvetch’ since the negative connotation of the word gave us extra wiggle room for creative expression. Although we had never heard of ‘kvetch,’ it is something that everyone has to deal with—people who complain a lot and are annoying.”
The duo imagined a scene taking place in a diner where a woman complained about her pancakes to an extreme extent. They then used iMovie to edit their video and ensure it fit within the 15-second time frame. The software allowed them to tweak some details like excessive background noise, volume issues, and transitions between scenes.
Reflecting on why they chose this concept, the two students shared that “We often associate scenes with food and the desire for the perfect tasting meal with a kvetch; additionally, there is a subtle modern internet reference in our video of the term ‘Karen’ that symbolizes a kvetch who often complains to service industry workers. To lastly add some humor, we included a short snippet where the waitress smashes the kvetch’s face into whipped cream to express her frustration.”
In the last step of the process, Mariana and Camellia briefly talked with their parents about submitting to the contest, and they were all very supportive. The process of making the video helped them learn about what “kvetch” meant, but also many other words they brainstormed. Overall, it was a smooth, productive, and fun experience for the students. We hope others will enter the contest in the future!