Division of Juvenile Justice, Rehabilitation

VYCF dives into project based learning

Ventura youth project-based learning art project for youth.
DJJ artists show their work as part of a project-based learning exhibition.

Students at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility’s Mary B. Perry High School took part in a Project Based Learning Exhibition (PBL) in October. Hosted by Principal Dr. Obiako and made possible by a dedicated cohort of teachers, the project is rooted in a student-centered philosophy.

The essential question of the PBL Exhibition was, “Why is discovery essential to growth?”

One of the exhibitions created by some of our female youth focused on the HeLa factory created at the Tuskegee institute for cell cultivation, one of the first of its kind. In February 1951, a young African American mother of five named Henrietta Lacks visited The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Upon examination, gynecologist Dr. Howard Jones discovered a large malignant tumor on her cervix.

A sample of the cancer cells retrieved during her biopsy were sent to Dr. George Gey’s tissue lab. For years, Dr. Gey had been collecting cells from all patients who came to The Johns Hopkins Hospital with cervical cancer, but each sample quickly died in the lab. What he would soon discover was that Mrs. Lacks’ cells were unlike any of the others. Where other cells would die, Mrs. Lacks’ cells doubled every 20 to 24 hours. Today, these cells — nicknamed “HeLa” cells, from the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last names — are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells. This allows researchers to experiment without using humans. Mrs. Lacks died October 4, 1951, and her family has raised issues regarding the use of her cells and the method in which they were acquired. They’ve also filed a lawsuit.

Mr. Johnson’s History class harnessed inspiration for this year’s Exhibition Discovery theme from “Jurassic Park,” parlaying it into a “what if” scenario. If Columbus instead discovered the small island full of dinosaurs, how would things have been different? The students turned it into a video project.

“The premise being that Columbus could have discovered Jurassic Park, a fictional island off the coast of Puerto Rico, rather than the islands he did discover. With the discovery of Jurassic Park, or Isla Nublar, the natives could have turned the tables and led Columbus and his men into the jaws of tyrannosaurus rex, preventing their subjugation to the Spanish crown.”

Prior to the movie, staff members were greeted with movie tickets, punch and popcorn.

On the Behavior Treatment Program, youth were inspired by the European pilgrimage to America, creating tourist guides with drawings of pictures featuring the beautiful and agrarian culture of various indigenous Indian Tribes.
Instructor Crane’s exhibition presentation was college students who showed off knowledge of “Canvas,” an online educational experience available to youth to achieve college degrees.

One youth explained how he was currently attending San Francisco University and uses Canvas to communicate with his professors. DJJ students post assignments, teachers post video lectures and students can see their monthly calendar of assignments with due dates. The teachers also provide youth with readings needed for their courses.

Student Ambassadors vetted staff through a matrix of PBL projects focusing on the value of Discovery and Growth. Staff were able to see some of the Exhibitions that were displayed in classrooms at Mary B. Perry High School and appreciated the hard work and effort our youth put into their PBL Classroom Projects. PBL exhibitions were also on the Behavior Treatment Program and Female Empowerment Space in the SPC area.

Youth in Teacher Shuere’s computer class focused on game design and presented a power point featuring the creation of digital stream.

It is through culturally responsive pedagogics and PBL; our teachers continue to create an academically enriching milieu for students of all ethnicities and races to be comfortable and excel. PBL helps inspire our students to resist the polarizing politics of peer pressure, gang rivalry and racial divisiveness and embrace the future inherent in the endless opportunities education makes possible.

By K. Fussell

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