Five at-risk high school students are teaming up with seniors at CSUSM to produce a collaborative 20-minute video that will bring college into focus and help to remove educational barriers for teens who previously considered higher education out of reach. The semester-long pilot project will place the youth in front of and behind the camera for the first time as they learn video production skills from Cal State San Marcos students Corey Esoldi, Kristine Fernandez and Alicia Vicencio, who are spearheading the effort.

“At-risk youth are often left out of the college planning process,” said Professor Kristine Diekman, faculty advisor for the film project. “This video will give these teens an avenue to share their voice and perspective while also sharing an informational and inspirational message that motivates other youth who may not have thought of college as a viable option.”

Diekman explained that at-risk students face different barriers to education than most of their peers. Often the first in their families to attend college and unable to afford the cost of tuition, the expectation is that most will never step foot on a college campus. But the video aims to change that by demystifying the university experience. The video will highlight tutorials on how students can access programs like supportive services and financial aid, as well as feature interviews with college students.

Unlike some preparatory college videos that miss that mark with gimmicks and phony acting, this video promises to be frank and relatable, an approach VPA senior Kristine Fernandez hopes will be more receptive and therefore more impactful.

“The video will offer a level of authenticity that is uncommon and often not shared in these types of videos,” she said.

Currently, the high school youth come to campus weekly to gain hands-on production skills and training. For the first phase of the semester, the youth are learning script development, storyboarding and covering basics from how to use a camera and set-up lights, to advanced editing and post-production. The weekly lesson plans are created by the CSUSM students who teach, mentor and work alongside the youth.

For 17-year-old Jeffrey Simi, being in a family of 12 had previously left little room for thoughts about college. He never imagined he’d find himself at CSUSM working with college students and using high-end equipment to help tell the untold story of at-risk youth navigating the road to college.

“I’ve never worked with such expensive equipment and technology before,” said Simi, a senior at Oceanside High School. “It’s a new experience and I’m enjoying the opportunity to learn the techniques and technical aspects of film production. I cannot wait to see it all come together.”

The teens participating in the project are part of the Transitional Youth Academy, a program operated by nonprofit agency Interfaith Community Services to help troubled and at-risk youth overcome barriers and be successful. Four of the students currently attend Oceanside High School and one goes to San Marcos High.

Professor Diekman, the creator of Video in the Community and an advocate for socially responsible media, hopes the pilot program will one day expand to allow for more community-focused projects. The impact of student-led, student-created videos not only benefits the community, but enriches the experience for CSUSM students.

Creating documentaries first became a passion of senior Corey Esoldi after taking Diekman’s video course. Having experienced how film can both empower the filmmaker and the community, Esoldi hopes the teens participating in the project gain as much value from the video as those who will one day watch it.

“I hope this process gives the youth confidence and reaffirms that they can accomplish anything,” he said. “No student should ever feel that college is out of reach simply because they were overlooked. I want these students, and the students who will one day watch our film, see that college is possible and within their grasp.”

Unlike some preparatory college videos that miss that mark with gimmicks and phony acting, this video promises to be frank and relatable, an approach VPA senior Kristine Fernandez hopes will be more receptive and therefore more impactful.