From left, Leland & Gray High School students Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom, Fraser Query and Alana Redden are raising money to produce a documentary about
From left, Leland & Gray High School students Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom, Fraser Query and Alana Redden are raising money to produce a documentary about the school's Journey East program. They are holding a card recognizing their receipt of a B.E.A.N. Micro-Grant from Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

TOWNSHEND -- It's a long way to China.

But three Leland & Gray Union High School students are hoping for help to get there in order to produce a documentary about the school's highly regarded Journey East program.

The students -- Alana Redden, Fraser Query and Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom -- have finished an online crowd-funding campaign and are now requesting direct donations for a project that already has begun.

"We know it's a huge project," Gaspero-Beckstrom said. "But that's why we're doing it -- because Journey East is a huge part of our lives."

The three students took part two years ago in Journey East, an arts-exchange program that dates to 2000. More than 200 American students -- from Leland & Gray and from other area schools -- have participated so far.

Vermont students, in addition to studying Chinese history, language, philosophy, geography, politics, literature and film, also travel to China for a month in the spring semester. There, they study and perform for Chinese students.

The following fall, Chinese students travel to Vermont, where they are hosted by local families and perform in area schools.

Journey East made a big impression on Redden and Query, both seniors, and Gaspero-Beckstrom, who is a junior.

"In a sense, I grew up," Query said. "I feel like I gained a lot of responsibility and self-worth."

Redden said she especially appreciated the performing-arts aspect of the program, recalling participating in a performance in front of 1,500 students in China.

"It's a way of communication," she said. "And that was something that was really powerful to me."

The trio now want to communicate that to a larger audience via a documentary film that is produced, directed and written by students.

The idea came last fall after Query and Gaspero-Beckstrom had conversations with an adviser to the school's LGTV program, who "suggested making a short film or documentary."

"Very quickly, it became a huge project," Query said.

Redden joined the effort early on, and she acknowledges that funding and making a documentary has presented a "huge learning curve."

"We're learning as we're going, and it's very much an ongoing learning process," she said.

The students expect to use interviews with alumni, teachers and others in the film. But they also want to return to China in late March to document the activities of the current Journey East class there.

To raise money for the project, the students turned to the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. They established a $25,000 goal, with nearly $20,000 of that dedicated to travel expenses -- transportation, food, lodging and guides for the trip to China.

Other estimated costs include outreach and distribution ($2,500); equipment ($1,850); and an editing consultant ($700).

The online campaign, which ran through the end of January, raised more than $6,000. Though the group did not come close to reaching their goal exclusively through Indiegogo, "we still raised a lot of money," Redden said. "We gained a lot of support."

Anyone interested in supporting the students' project still can contribute via checks made out to Leland & Gray Union High School with "Journey East Productions" indicated on the memo line.

The check can be mailed to Journey East Productions, P.O. Box 622, Townshend VT 05353.

"If they'd rather send the check directly to the school, that's all right, too," Query said, while pointing out that all donations must be clearly earmarked for Journey East Productions.

The students said donations of frequent-flier miles also will greatly help their cause. And they've also applied for grants, having won $270 through Brattleboro Museum & Art Center's B.E.A.N. Micro-Grant Program.

Though their trip is supposed to commence in late March, and the students need as much money as possible before then, there are no hard-and-fast fundraising deadlines.

"We're going to be fundraising up until we leave, and probably after," Redden said. "It's going to be an ongoing adventure."

The group's Indiegogo campaign may be over, but their page on that site -- www.indiegogo.com/projects/journey-east-documentary-project -- still contains a wealth of information about the project.

If all goes well, the group hopes to distribute the movie to high schools around the country.

"We want to share this film with other schools," Redden said. "We want to say, ‘We come from a small town in Vermont, and we have this amazing program.'"

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.