Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

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SRHS History Teacher Leaves and Media Academy Changes

With Mrs. Ayoob’s departure, the popular program sees its community and curriculum shift.

Things are changing for San Rafael High School’s Media Academy. Ashley Ayoob, a San Rafael High School teacher for nine years, moved to Terra Linda High School, leaving the academy without a history teacher. Now, the popular program is experiencing a shift in its community and curriculum.

“She always made us feel heard and valued and her passion for social studies shined through everything she taught. I felt lucky to have her,” says Lilly Sim, a senior in the class.

Ayoob was the Media Academy (MAX) history teacher from the 2015-2016 school year until the 2022-2023 school year. She helped organize numerous projects and impacted many students.

“I really can’t say enough about what Mrs. Ayoob brings to the kind of dynamic situation that Media Academy represents. She’s bright and creative, very quick-witted and funny. She is very good at paying attention to students and building relationships. She added a lot of emotional support and joy to our work,” says Jeannine Thurson, the English teacher in Media Academy, who started the program in the early 2000s.

Now, since there’s no history class in Media Academy, the MAX seniors are pushed into junior US history classes. Without Ayoob’s class, Sim says that “we don’t have that home base.” 

Some students report that she was also a support to people of color in Media Academy. Her students felt comfortable going to her with their troubles. 

Historically, Media Academy has been a program that includes three classes – English, history, and digital media – that all work together to create film projects. The digital media class has been taught by Steve Temple for about two decades. It is a unique way of learning, since film projects are primarily connected to what they are being taught in one of the other two MAX classes. Through these projects, they get to experience what it’s like to create films. 

“I’ve learned a lot about filming, about directing, about cameras, and audio,” says Ben Wolfe, a senior in MAX.

They also get to learn how to work in groups. MAX senior, Kevin Muñoz, states that “you get to see how other people work.” 

Ayoob is not only a teacher, but a mother, and this had a big influence on her choice to move to Terra Linda High. With three young kids, it was a struggle to balance childcare, pick ups, and drop offs when her work was farther away from home.

“I often say teachers give up their time with their children for other people’s children,” says Ayoob. Teaching involves so much time and attention, that when her job was so far from TL, she couldn’t be as available for her kids.

“I realized that I will never be able to pick them up from school, I will miss the morning drop offs, and I am missing so much. I need to shift things.” She saw that there was a teaching job available at TLHS, and took the opportunity. “I live in TL, I went to TL, my children’s school is less than five minutes away, if I had to get them during lunch I wouldn’t worry, and it just allows me to be a better, more present mom,” Ayoob shares. She loved teaching Media Academy, which made this a hard decision. She states that “I do miss Media Academy and that cannot be understated – I miss absolutely everything.” This love was the reason she taught at San Rafael for so long.

“People would definitely say she was the glue of Media Academy, she was the organized, color-coded one,” Sim states.

Historically, Media Academy has taken up three periods of the day and has conflicted with AVID, a program designed to help prospective first-generation college students. 

Alondra Maldonado Santos is a senior in Media Academy. She was a part of AVID throughout middle school and her first two years of high school. She was encouraged to stay in the program, but was interested in taking Media Academy, so she took time to think about her decision. Once she had decided, MAX was already full. She recalls talking to Thurston and Ayoob, and them “literally [making] space for [her].” She remembers Ayoob “saying specifically ‘we’re going to fight for you.’”

“[Ayoob] being a Latina too, in a way she understood not fitting in,” Maldonado Santos says. She would support the students of color by checking in on them. 

“She would always tell me to keep doing my best and keep doing what Media Academy’s for,” says Sim.

Ayoob’s absence will be an adjustment, as the past Media Academy team meshed very well. They were different ages and taught different subjects, but, “we kind of all complimented each other,” Temple says.

Additionally, Ayoob is extremely organized, which is a helpful skill when a group plans complex, multi-month projects. Temple states that “she’s super organized and was always spearheading the process” of planning assignments. 

The hope is to have a new history teacher, but with a project-based class involving lots of planning, that’s harder than it sounds. Temple says that a “teacher team has to really sync together and then you also have to have a teacher who believes that project based learning is, in fact, pedagogically valuable.” They also have to commit lots of time to coordinating with the other MAX teachers. Thurston reflects that “a large part of my experience of how things have changed is just missing a valued colleague and friend.” It will be hard to find a teacher that fills Ayoob’s shoes.

”The community is still there this year, but it’s not as strong just because we don’t have three classes that are together – it’s only two,” Zane Fiandaca-Olsen states. 

“It’s definitely like you’re missing something,” senior Alex Serratos says. “Ms. Ayoob brought a lot of energy and motivation and just organization to everything especially to such a big group.” 

On the other hand, it’s possible that some students see little change besides having no Media Academy history class. “We’re still doing the same movie projects, working the same way,” says senior Ben Maloney.

Whether people think her departure has made a big difference or not, Temple is already thinking about how they can progress MAX without losing too much. There might need to be a greater connection between the media and English classes in the future. 

Every year, they alternate whether they base their film projects off of what they’re learning in English or history. This year, they are basing them off of English, but next year, if they don’t have a new history teacher, things will need to be changed. Teaching documentary style films will have to be different. “We might have to just change them, have topics that are more English-focused,” Temple explains.

“It opens up some possibilities around more narrative filmmaking. We’re trying to focus more on literature, story-telling, that kind of aspect of filmmaking,” says Temple.

Ayoob cared for her students and loved her job, but ultimately chose the path that would let her be a more available mother. While the Media Academy students are still feeling the effects of this change, the future is bright; as Temple says, “young people are adaptive.”

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    Gabriela FinellDec 1, 2023 at 12:45 pm

    Hannah, this is such a thoughtfully written article. I know I miss Ayoob dearly, and many feel her absence in MAX this year, but you perfectly worded her family dilemma and the validity of her ultimate choice. Great job!

  • N

    NaomiOct 17, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    Good job Hannah! This is amazing