Pathways to the Future

Mendocino High is a small school on the rural north coast of California, yet technologically it's very forward-looking and farsighted with an outstanding record of student achievement. For 12 years the Pathways to the Future technology program has been an integral part of the educational process. Pathways, required of every ninth- and 10th-grader, is designed to work video, audio, and computer technologies into the language arts and social science curriculum.

Ninth Grade

Freshman language arts courses integrate communications technology. Students are divided into three groups, with each group cycling three times through each of the technologies: computers, audio, and video.

Cycles comprise two- or three-week blocks during which students create projects linked to the reading and writing curriculum of their language arts class. Experience with the program has helped teachers manage the challenging process of building and maintaining a complex schedule that must ensure students have enough time to complete their technology projects and also core curriculum content.

All Pathways projects are completed in one of three campus labs: audio, video, and computer. For the audio portion of the Pathways program, students work individually or in small teams of two or three. Groups can sometimes be larger when the kids move to video projects. Through small-team collaboration and the creation of projects in each of the three technologies, each student becomes grounded in the necessary skill of media literacy as well as in traditional literacy.

Round One: Sample Lessons

The first ninth-grade group's technology project might be to create a video three to five minutes in length about a Latin American country. Students might use a half hour of video culled from a library of tapes that have been purchased specifically for such projects by video instructor Tom Wolsky. The student's task would be to add narration, music, and graphics. The teams have about eight hours to complete the projects.

Students work on their assignments simultaneously. While one group is focusing on video, another will be doing an audio project. In one, they'll use microphones and mixers to create a presentation that combines poetry and music. Students find a poem by a Latin American poet, prepare a biography of the poet, develop it into a script, record the poem, research to find the right music, and then mix it all together.

A third group of ninth-graders will be working in the computer lab preparing PowerPoint presentations on different aspects of the Latin American poet's history, culture, and work. Later in the year, the ninth-graders who started out on computers would move to video, while the video students move to audio, and the audio students to computers.

Round Two: Sample Lessons

For their second trip to the technology lab, students' assignments involve the same technology skills, but the content overlaps with their studies in language arts. During this rotation, the language arts curriculum centers on issues of race. Students must tie their reading of To Kill a Mockingbird to a video project that, for example, might combine a scene from the Gregory Peck movie with newsreel footage of the early Civil Rights movement and some of the great speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

To make that possible, Wolsky dubbed To Kill a Mockingbird to mini DV tapes to simplify the capture process, which involves copying the video onto a computer. The Martin Luther King Jr. material was culled from a tape Wolsky bought from ABC News, called "The Speeches Collection: Martin Luther King Jr." (MPI Video, ASIN: 6301038851), along with other material from videodiscs donated by the now-defunct ABC News Interactive.

Round Three: Sample Lessons

The third trip to the technology labs might involve students producing projects centered on themselves, their home, family, and community. In the video lab they combine pictures of the coast and villages that line the shore in the Mendocino area. The students might make brief on-camera appearances to tell us about themselves, narrate various scenes, or provide informative sound bites to go with a music sound track and still images.

The structure of the course is never carved in stone and has varied quite a bit over the years. Video projects have been produced about the Chinese community in Mendocino, centered on the restoration of the Temple of Kwan Tai, one of the oldest Taoist temples in northern California. Such projects might be tied to reading Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars, or other books dealing with issues of race and community.

Audio projects cover similar ground and can range from biographical narratives on authors and readings from their works, to readings from Mendocino historical documents, to interviews with students' family members about family traditions, interviews with Mexican Americans about their experiences and traditions, or dramatized readings from a travelogue of backpacking through China.

10th Grade

A similar program is conducted for 10th-graders, only here the projects are longer and more demanding because both world literature and world history core curriculum are included. While the ninth-grade video projects primarily comprise editing pre-existing video or creating a multimedia project combining still images, video, and audio, a second-year project would require scripting, staging, shooting, and editing to produce a finished piece. Projects might entail creating a short video that compares and contrasts two or more Age of Reason philosophers and their views on the nature of man. Such projects would also be tied to language arts through reading the novel and watching the film version of Lord of the Flies.

When students must create an original project that has philosophers reflecting on the nature of man, the video they produce might feature two philosophers, such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, watching scenes from Lord of the Flies and commenting on what philosophy is motivating the boys' behavior. An audio project might consist of a philosopher's dinner party complete with a multitrack recording of sound effects, dialogue, and music. A computer project might be a PowerPoint presentation that compares and contrasts two governmental philosophies.

Another 10th-grade project is to illustrate the six stages of Crane Brinton's paradigm of revolution. Here students draw upon curriculum such as A Tale of Two Cities and the French Revolution. A third of the students will create a video project, a third audio projects, and a third computer-based projects. The projects of the next rotation focus on Nationalism. During this rotation students are studying World War I in history class, while in language arts they're reading All Quiet on the Western Front and poetry from the era.

Authentic Audiences

Both ninth- and 10th-graders present their final projects to their peers and teachers in class, which reinforces their knowledge through teaching others and also creates an authentic, real-world purpose for their work.

At the end of each year, students create a Web-based learning portfolio, with a view toward highlighting skills necessary for the digital workplace. In collaboration with WestEd, Mendocino High developed a series of guidelines aimed at preparing students for the post-graduate world. All the Pathways projects stress the importance of collaboration and teamwork, responsibility for equipment and the work space, responsibility to the other members of the team, being on time, coming prepared, budgeting time, and using time wisely.

Pathways I and II students select samples of work that they feel demonstrate their achievement in communication, technology, problem solving, and employment literacy. Video, audio, multimedia, and computer projects created earlier in the year are available on a server for all students to use as work samples. The e-portfolio effectively promotes cross-curricular work and serves as a vehicle for increasing parental and employer involvement. In addition, the assessment each May moves beyond the classroom walls to include not just students and educators, but parents and other community members, as well.

Due to administrative changes prompted by cuts in the education budget it's likely the Pathways to the Future program will not continue in the fall at Mendocino High School. This highly successful program may be revived in the future, but as of this time, its future, and that of the ROP instructors who worked on it, is very much in doubt.

Bronwyn Rhoades has been a teacher for 33 years, with 20 of those spent teaching English at Mendocino High School. She has developed integrated curriculum for the last 12 years. In addition she teaches secondary literacy and writing for Dominican University's teacher credentialing program.

Tom Wolsky has been teaching video production at Mendocino High School for 10 years. He has 30+ years of experience in film, tape, and digital media, having worked as a producer for ABC News in London and New York. In addition he is an Apple certified FCP trainer and teaches during the summer at the Digital Media Academy at Stanford. He is also the author of Final Cut Pro and a forthcoming book on Final Cut Express.

Pathways' Origins

The Pathways program began as a grant written jointly 13 years ago by English teacher Bronwyn Rhoades and Regional Occupation Program technology instructors Oleg Harencar (video), Bob Evans (audio), and Jody Evans and Larry Martin (computers). After the first year of implementation, Tom Wolsky took over as video instructor. Other teachers have come and gone, but the program remains in place with Bronwyn Rhoades as its lead teacher. The program is now sustained financially through a collaboration between Mendocino Unified School District and ROP. To learn more, visit

Standards Tie-In

Too much fun for actual learning? No way. Digital video projects, such as a ninth-grader's "The Chinese in Mendocino," require tasks that match up to the common learning standards below.


  • Use clear research questions and methods to present evidence
  • Develop main idea with supporting evidence
  • Synthesize information from multiple sources and identify complexities and discrepancies

Listening and Speaking

  • Compare and contrast the ways in which media genres cover events
  • Present and advance a clear thesis statement and choose appropriate types of proof
  • Analyze the occasion and interests of the audience


  • Generate research questions from readings
  • Synthesize content from several sources
  • Identify traits of different forms of drama
  • Analyze a work of literature as it reflects heritage

Standards Tie-In

A 10th-grade student's video, "The Stages of Revolution," meets the following language arts and social science standards:

Social Science

Students will demonstrate an understanding that contemporary world problems are impacted by historical, economic, social, and political factors.

  • Describe the relationship of history to the political, economic, and social problems in a country
  • Demonstrate an understanding of significant Enlightenment ideas and their impact on democratic revolutions in England, the United States, France, and Latin America
  • Analyze the impact of industrialization on the general society
  • Read and study selections from literature and films to better understand totalitarian rule, the need for checked power, and the importance of basic freedoms
  • Analyze and explain the conflict between fundamental rights and totalitarian rule; consider the ethical responsibilities of people faced with totalitarian oppression

Language Arts


  • Use clear research questions and present evidence
  • Develop main idea with supporting evidence
  • Revise writing to improve word choice, logic, and tone


  • Synthesize content from several sources
  • Evaluate the credibility of the author's argument or defense of a claim
  • Analyze texts based on aesthetic and historical approaches

Keeping Pace with the Changing Technology

A remarkable aspect of the Pathways program is its flexibility. It can adapt to ever-changing teachers, schedules, and state mandates. It is also easily adaptable to new technologies. Below, a short history.

Since the Pathways program was first implemented in 1990, technology has changed enormously, and Mendocino High's technology labs have done their best to keep up. When the program began, video and audio were still very much analog media, while computers were Mac Pluses used mostly to create HyperCard presentations. Later, VHS and Hi8 video was edited on computers by digitizing the signal with the Fast Video Machine. Eventually Adobe Premiere and the MiroMotion capture card were used to digitize the analog video signal. Over the last few years, analog video equipment has been replaced with DV-format cameras, and Premiere was replaced with Apple Final Cut Pro running on G4 towers. In the computer lab, equipment went from the original Mac Pluses to LCIIs to iMacs. Audio gear transitioned from an analog 16-channel mixing board feeding cassette tape recorders to Digidesign Pro Tools audio recording and editing software that features a built-in audio mixer and DAT and MiniDisc recorders.

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