Students link computers to causes

March 9, 2010

By Christopher Huber

Middle school multimedia program raises community awareness

Pine Lake seventh-grader Danielle Backman and eighth-grader Hope Chapman work on their awareness video Feb. 24 in the PLMS computer lab. By Christopher Huber

Pine Lake Middle School eighth-graders Kyle Feuerberg and Henry Jarvis threw a Super Bowl party for 25 homeless men for their multimedia elective class.

It sounds strange, but the pair teamed up, raised money for food and goodies, found a venue and invited homeless people to hang out Feb. 7 at Saint Luke’s Church in Bellevue. They get a grade for producing videos and multimedia content to promote the cause.

It’s all part of teacher Eric Ensey’s new hybrid multimedia class — Computers4Causes. It combines all the basics of the class with real-world community service.

“It’s a lot more exciting than just doing a presentation on the computer,” Jarvis said. It’s nice to know we made a difference and helped out.”

The idea to mix service with a multimedia class came to Ensey last school year. Pine Lake students are used to promoting local causes and service projects — such as coin drives to help free slaves — he wanted to give them more tangible incentives to a technology-heavy class.

“I was literally running on the treadmill. All of a sudden this light went on,” Ensey said. “The focus of the class was just on the technology,” he said. “I thought, ‘what if I took this idea and combined it with service learning?’”

It took about six months to plan and his study-skills students even helped him develop the grading system.

The first day of class last fall, he asked the multimedia students, “Can you make a difference?”

They proceeded to watch and study awareness videos on various causes and talk about how else to use technology to promote something. Ensey also brought in guest speakers like a video producer for World Vision and a local photographer, he said. All the while he tried to infuse students’ natural interests into the project.

“I teach 21st century skills to use them for a purpose,” Ensey said. The focus was, “how do you take what they like … and serve somebody with it?”

Students broke into eight different groups to promote eight different causes. Throughout the term, they research and choose a cause, document the process, create two videos, a Web page and various graphics to promote the event or cause.

Ensey, a veteran teacher, said he’s been pleasantly surprised at his students’ enthusiasm for the projects. Rather than sitting to study a math book, it gives them something to go out into the world and do, then come back and work with their hands in the media lab. The key, he said, is connecting the students to the real world.

“I get a sense that they’re loving it,” he said. “The kids are thirsting to give back.”

Among the multimedia class service projects were a book drive to benefit students in Africa, spending time with senior citizens and working with the Humane Society.

“I never thought I’d teach a class like this,” Ensey said.

Many of the ideas came from parents, like Stacy Witte, who have connections with charities or just want to help the students do a good job.

Witte, a Pine Lake parent and the volunteer coordinator for Bellevue-based Congregations for the Homeless, helped Feuerberg and Jarvis throw the Super Bowl party. About 25 men came.

“It was a great day,” she said. “I think they learned, if nothing else, every man had a story. Football gives them something in common to talk about then they branch off from there.”

The boys said what most impacted them during this project was putting a face to homelessness — they’re not necessarily dirty or alcoholic.

“We pretty much wanted to break the stereotype of homeless people for kids our age,” Feuerberg said as the pair worked on their video and Web site. “I think they should keep doing this class throughout Pine Lake.”

Ensey said he’s not sure what his end goal is for the class, but it will continue each semester.

“I hope this would be the blueprint for future classes in the school,” Ensey said.

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, Comment at

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