Cinephile in the Making: How Schools Fund STEM programming helped Martin find his passion for film

Martin Fierro Noriega, a Berkeley High senior, has his heart set on becoming a filmmaker. Thanks to Berkeley Public Schools Fund STEM programming, this second year STEM/Maker Camp mentor and alumnus of the Super Science Saturdays program, had early hands-on experiences that led him both directly and indirectly toward a career in filmmaking. He is most drawn to being behind the camera and aspires to be a cinematographer. But that was not always his dream. When he was younger, he wasn’t expecting to go to college. Then he met Mr. Halpern. 


Phil Halpern is one of the lead teachers in the Communications, Arts, and Sciences (CAS) community, or “small school,” at Berkeley High. CAS is described as: “Distinguished by its focus on critical thinking, social justice, media literacy, and community […] and built around experiential learning.” In CAS, Martin was exposed to photography and film studies, which sparked his love of cinema. He attributes his inspiration to Halpern’s guidance and enthusiasm. The experiential learning nature of CAS, which was so inspiring to Martin, is precisely what the Schools Fund ladder of STEM programs offers to students as young as Kindergarten and into high school. 


In elementary school, Martin participated in Super Science Saturdays—a program seeded by the Schools Fund that, for 12 Saturdays during the school year, gives students in 1st to 5th grade hands-on learning through field trips and age specific activities. Reflecting fondly on those Saturdays spent building and experimenting, he says, “It kept my confidence up and also kept me going. It didn’t stop me, it didn’t stunt my growth. I remember always going to that class being like, let’s go! We got to build something even if it did fail.” He recalls learning about and using the “Engineering Design Process” during the program: “asking a question, imagining solutions, planning for it and then testing it and fixing it. Test, build, repeat, all that stuff. That’s something that I carried on to all of my [high school] classes like Physics. I really liked Physics because I already understood which shapes were strong and which are not, why certain things moved, and I did really well in that class.” The hands-on environment of Super Science Saturdays, and the values Martin learned through the Engineering Process—that trying and failing is essential for learning and growth—helped him develop a love of learning that supported him despite his struggles with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.


Now in his last few weeks of high school, Martin is preparing to go to San Francisco State University and become a first-generation college student. Before he goes off to college, he will spend a second summer as a Schools Fund STEM/Maker Camp mentor. This summer program was not available for Martin when he was in middle school, and he understands how instrumental such a program can be for students. He shares what he enjoys about watching the students work and why what they’re doing is important: “They’re really excited to create their movies and learn how it works. And I think there’s a difference between learning how something works and just doing it. It’s easy to do stop-motion. But understanding the frame rate, how things are supposed to move, why we use the onion method, and editing as well. Just doing it is different than understanding why it does that. It deepens your knowledge of the craft.”

Martin is one of the first Berkeley High graduates whose experience has been shaped by the Schools Fund’s STEM programming. Starting next year, 500 students a year will have the benefit of the kind of learning and exploration that changed Martin’s life.

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