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 Exhibition Gives Students Real-World Experience

student with trifold at exhibition​Researching and presenting on complicated subjects like mass incarceration, Tourette's syndrome, or gang violence can be an overwhelming assignment, but North County Technology and Science Blended Academy (NCTA) students did just that at their most recent Student Learning Exhibition.

More than 70 people turned out on a Monday evening at the North County Regional Education Center to support the Momentum Learning students -- family members, friends, documentary participants, and SDCOE guests, including Board President Rick Shea, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and Programs Don Buchheit, Momentum Learning Interim Executive Director Jessica Rapp-McCreary, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lora Duzyk, Momentum Learning Principal Joel Spengler, and Student Support Services Senior Manager Anthony Ceja.

At a Momentum Learning exhibition, students are prepared to discuss the subject they've researched and to answer questions from visitors. They use trifold presentation boards, PowerPoint slides, and photos. These North County students had a massive extra project to share with their guests: a 90-minute documentary on gangs, "Street Sense: A Story of Gangs and Underserved Communities."

Michelle Victoria, 13, chose to research multiple sclerosis for the science component. She had heard of the disease, but did not know how it affects those it afflicts. "This was my chance, my opportunity to learn more about it, and this presentation shows how much I learned about it," Michelle said, adding that her biggest challenge was finding the best resources about MS.

NCTA teachers Tammy Reina, Roberto Diaz, and Paige Stence led the students, who range in age from 12 to 19, through the science and social-science assignments, which are rooted in project-based learning.

"For our kids, a whole lot of things are great about this project." Reina said. "There's accountability. It takes project-based learning to really experience that pressure. That's real-world. There's incredible pride when they do a good job. They get excited about it."

On Friday morning, with the exhibition 72 hours away, students were laser-focused, cutting and pasting facts and photos on trifolds, adding finishing touches to PowerPoint presentations, and researching for one more bit of information to fine-tune their reports.

Their hard work left visitors overwhelmingly impressed the following Monday evening, and students proud and relieved, particularly after the screening of the documentary.

Board President Shea shared that he always enjoys interacting with students and their parents, and viewing and hearing the students discuss their work.

"The projects I viewed last night highlighted the connection between their real-world experiences coupled with academic research," Shea said. "The results clearly showed the collaboration between the students and their teachers and the importance of alternative education that we provide in the juvenile court and community schools. The students, their families, and society benefit because of the dedication and skills of our teachers."

The documentary process included editing upward of 70 hours of recorded interviews. Lead editor Ian Swenningsen, 18, said he had barely picked up a camera before working on the documentary. But he gladly would do it again, adding that going out in the community and conducting interviews was his favorite part of the documentary project.

"You captured the subject of gangs in the most raw, pure way," Rapp-McCreary told the students at the exhibition's conclusion. "You asked the right questions. You got people to the table. That takes a lot of dedication. I'm proud of you. Thank you for sharing your work and everything you learned."