Story by Karette Fussell, PIO
Photos by Manuel Galvan
Ventura Youth Correctional Facility

At Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF), Principal Tae Mauk, along with a cadre of teachers, make it possible for students to take responsibility for their acquisition of knowledge and develop solutions for complex problems through Project Based Learning (PBL).

PBL is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge. The theme of “Courage” for this quarter’s Project Based Learning exhibition in December at VYCF was inspired by the book “A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.”

With sweeping humanitarian pathos, New York Times bestselling author Ishmael Beah focuses on preserving what means the most to us, even in uncertain times in his compelling memoir. Beah’s courage to heal from the horrific reality of being a child soldier in a war-torn country is both daunting and inspiring. It renews belief in humanity and the human spirit. Many times courage or having the audacity to heal from seemingly insurmountable odds or overwhelming trauma is essential in order to live a fulfilling, successful life.

Most of incarcerated youth struggle with their own personal war zones, many coming from oppressed socio-economic environments with significant issues related to substance abuse, mental health and gang entrenchment. Almost all of VCYF’s incarcerated youth have histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and have hurt others. Through the Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model (IBTM) that emphasizes positive reinforcement over punishment, VYCF’s mission of rehabilitation is being achieved by helping youth develop pro-social behavior to halt the cycle of victimization and successfully integrate back into society.

IBTM promotes evidence-based treatment interventions that are gender responsive, trauma informed and Cognitive Behavioral Modalities. Education is essential to reducing recidivism and also plays a major role in the rehabilitative mosaic of the Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model.

By providing an experiential approach predicated by PBL, students are able to delve into a learning matrix that is challenging, meaningful and inspirational, one that will broaden their humanity and bring them resolve in uncertain times. The youth at VYCF pay homage to the past and present in their projects by gathering inspiration and courage from history, science, art, math, technology, etc. They were galvanized by Beah’s memoir to courageously and creatively confront the future and uncertainty in their quest to find answers and healing, while raising the educational bar and their self-confidence as evidenced in their PBL exhibition displays and academic achievement.

Students sound off on Project Based Learning, courage and inspiration.

“I thought the exhibition was very fun and exciting and new. I also thought I learned more about the women’s suffrage movement than I would have with regular paper. Project Based Learning helps me by learning hands on and I enjoyed it because all my projects were fun to do and to show people. The book we read was very sad and touching. The book had a lot of struggles a little African boy goes through during war. Each obstacle he goes through he accomplishes. Reading the book made me feel as if I had to try harder in life and not give up. If that little boy can run away from war, get put into war and still never give up, then I can too. The book, ‘A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,’ made me feel strong and pushes me to do better every day,” said Skye S.

“I think the exhibition was a great experience. I was able to talk about what I enjoyed doing and what I liked. It was important to me to be able to express how I felt towards the subject I was learning. PBL helps because it expands my knowledge and helps me understand subjects more easily. I liked explaining what I did and being able to be a part of it makes me proud of myself,” said Agustin R.

“Project Based Learning is important to me because it helps me make more connections amongst topics that I didn’t think could be connected and helps me expand my horizons in school. Participating in this assignment made me feel more open to doing more work and assignments like this one. I enjoyed this assignment because I got to dress up like the women that fought for women’s right to vote such as Susan B. Anthony and to learn how hard and long women fought and overcame obstacles such as being put in jail and going on hunger strikes just so women can have the right to vote,” said Kyra S.

“I thought the exhibition was cool because it is a fun way of explaining what we learned. It also builds our presentation skills. It was important to me to be able to present in front of everyone because now I know that’s something I could do. Project Based Learning helps me by breaking everything I learned into one project and talking about it, rather than doing an assignment, turning it in, and then forgetting about what I learned. The exhibition was fun; I got to show what I learned. The book, A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was different than any other book I read. It was well written and what I liked about it was that it was a true story and it impacted my life because it made me see by having courage you can do things that you may not think you can do, for the better. The young boy in this book didn’t choose his family or to be part of a war. But by him having courage, he made it through the struggles he had to deal with in the war; the struggles he overcame made him the person he is today. I know that if I build up my courage, I can handle the struggles to make me a better person,” said Angel J.

“I think the exhibition is a great way of showing what we have learned during the semester. It was important to make sure the audience gets the concept. Project Based Learning helps me because it is hands on and easier to learn and I enjoyed it because we got very creative,” said Elvia J.

“It was great being part of the exhibition, it helped me learn about the impact of drugs,” said Fernando H.