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2018 Innovator, Ventura Unified Education Association

Foster care. Homelessness. Substance abuse. Truancy. Apathy. These are just some of the challenges that can land teens in continuation school. As a result, many build up emotional walls as a way to shield themselves from the pain of the outside world.

“I love teaching at continuation school, because there are so many unique personalities and they are so strong,” says Jesse Barnett, a social studies teacher at Pacific High School in Ventura. “I feel like I can relate to what’s going on in their lives. I was raised by a single mother and had a broken family. I didn’t go to a continuation school, but I definitely went through some of the same struggles as many of my students.”

Last year, Barnett created the Genealogy and Video Project — with help from CTA’s Institute for Teaching (IFT). It had a profound impact on students. Students told the stories of others who overcame hardships, in the process discovering a great deal about themselves. In some cases, the walls came tumbling down.

Barnett, who has been teaching for 12 years, has always enjoyed incorporating movie making into project-based learning. The IFT grant money allowed him to purchase new video cameras and computers with editing software, with the intent to have students research their ancestry and interview family members to provide context for major events occurring throughout the world.


Our 2018 Innovation Issue
These educators translate ideas, inventions and ways of doing things into something profound and often magical

Tricia Hyun, et al – English teachers find gamification a winner
Dan Frank – Manufacturing student success
Monique Flores & Ann Jensen – Program fosters freshman connection
Brandy Peters – Tech educator levels the playing field
Jessica Husselstein – Hitting just the right note
Virginia Marshall – Honoring black student achievement
Jesse Barnett – Students use cameras to get in touch with the world
Rose Borunda – Changing the California Indian history narrative
GALA – All-girls STEM school builds equity and skill
Dave Dein – Teaching truck-driving skills 

But plans changed, in part due to laws pertaining to students and information they can make available on such sites as Many students confided to Barnett that family members were either unavailable or unwilling to be recorded on camera: Some did not trust how the information would be used; others did not feel safe because they had immigrated illegally.

“It was about the same time that the events of Charlottesville occurred, with President Trump taking a hard line on immigration, and there was a lot of emotion in the air,” recalls Barnett, a member of Ventura Unified Education Association. “So, I asked students to collect stories from people in their community who had migrated to this country or other countries. It was history- and standards-based learning.”

“Students this age want to be involved in real-world, professional projects that integrate with technology and stretch their skill sets.”

Students interviewed and filmed those willing to participate, including a man who immigrated from Central America and achieved his dream of starting his own landscaping business; a classified employee from their school who arrived here from Mexico as a child; and a concentration camp survivor who lost her family before landing on U.S soil.

Students practiced their interviewing techniques in the classroom before filming their interviews in a local public television station, where they learned about audio, lighting, background, camera angles and teleprompters. They edited 10-minute videos into short segments, which will be shown on the station.

Many of the students were transformed by the powerful stories they brought to life.

“I learned a lot about people from learning a little bit about each person,” shares Teah Cobey, a senior, who was especially moved by the story of an Argentinian immigrant who lost contact with his entire family. Wiping away tears, she adds, “It made me think that if they get through hardships and losses, I can also get through the hardships and losses in my own life.”

Isiah Hernandez, a “super senior” in his fifth year, says it was the greatest experience he’s ever had in school, period. “I love filming, editing and asking questions. It was a version of what I’d like to do professionally. It opened a lot of doors for me.”

For Barnett, the experience underscored the kind of learning that works with his students and brings joy to his teaching. It’s “an education style that deviates from sitting at a desk all day and hearing a teacher lecture, with an occasional final project to look forward to at the end of a term,” he says. Instead, students engage in projects “that have a tangible final product to share with the world.”Barnett and his students have since started a news channel at Pacific High. “The most important thing I learned from the project is how much students this age want to be involved in real-world, professional projects that integrate with technology and stretch their skill sets.”