It's not every day that students from Barrett High School have a chance to transform themselves into zombies and entertain a group of teens.
That's exactly what happened July 17 at the La Jolla Playhouse for eight students who are nearing the end of their sentences at Camp Barrett, a residential camp in rural East County.
They spent a week at the playhouse, getting hands-on lessons about the technical aspects of the theater and some of the career opportunities available there. They made prop food, practiced makeup techniques, created their own zombie characters, worked on wardrobe, and learned about set design and lighting along with other practical skills.
"It's awesome," one of the students said. "I learned a lot."
The lessons culminated with a "zombie walk," when the students crept outside the playhouse in full costume and did a scripted stroll for a group of teens attending a summer program there. Even through the grisly zombie makeup, the Barrett High students' faces lit up as they received enthusiastic applause from the teens.
"They're proud of their work," said Julie Benitez, a theater teacher who was working with the Barrett High students.
The skills the students learned are practical ones that could help them get a job behind the scenes at a theater and are also applicable to other careers.
"In San Diego, working behind the scenes in theater is a viable career," said Amanda Wallace, who helped coordinate the effort for the San Diego County Office of Education.
Two of the students even secured internships at local theaters through the effort.
None of the students had ever been to a theater before. Because of what they learned, some of them said they now want to visit one to see a play in the future.
The students responded very well to the lessons and were eager to participate, said David Henderson, a probation officer working with them.
"It's total excitement from them," he said. "They get to do something different."
The lessons were fun, and they also gave the students a chance to practice their math and art skills.
"They're all completely engaged, and they're having a lot of fun, not realizing that they're in class," Wallace said.
Camp Barrett is run by the County of San Diego Probation Department, and Barrett High School is run by the San Diego County Office of Education as part of its Juvenile Court and Community Schools program. The two organizations work together to help students there learn through positive reinforcement.
About 65 boys between the ages of 16 and 18 live at the camp, most for six months. Some stay as long as a year.
The lessons for the Barrett High students are part of a bigger partnership between Juvenile Court and Community Schools and the La Jolla Playhouse.
"I'm so proud of the partnership and so excited about the possibilities," said Alison Urban, associate director of education and outreach for the playhouse.
Urban and Wallace said they hope to expand the lessons next summer to include more students for a longer period of time.