It's late on a recent Wednesday afternoon and Sanjuana and Inez stand up, eager to stretch and talk after several hours at a computer screen. The sisters – both students in Watsonville Community School’s teen mother program – chat about the campus at California State University, Monterey Bay, where they are working in a digital art lab.

The others in the lab – some university students enrolled in an art class, others from the Watsonville school – wrote scripts, recorded narration and edited photos and music weekly from the project's start in February. The group showed their finished films May 17 at the Watsonville Community School.

For some of the students, the project was a personal journey to understanding their background and where they’ve come from. For others, it was the making of a story to share with their children. But for everyone, it was about digital storytelling – how to use audio, video and still photos to create personal stories in the form of three- to five-minute digital movies.

Digital storytelling has been described as an updated version of scrapbooking – people can create mini-documentaries on their home computers, record them on CD, put them on the Web or transfer them to videotape.

Jenny Angelacos, a 2002 graduate of UC-Santa Cruz who works as a teacher of photography and graphic design, lead the class. She was hired by CSUMB’s Reclamation Project – a program funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation that unites artists and community organizations to explore social issues through creative partnerships.

Also participating in the project was Lourdes Portillo, whose documentary, Senorita Extraviada, earned a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002. Portillo helped the girls develop their scripts, offering suggestions on structure, voice, emotional content and pacing. As an award-winning filmmaker, she knows the elements of a good story and was able to share that knowledge with the young girls.

The teen moms’ stories focus on gender, generational, and culture issues that make them unique. Telling their stories is a way to transcend the obstacles and make a better life for themselves and their children. It helps them see who they are and what their options are.

Each teen mom was paired with a CSUMB student, who served as an educational model and mentor. Together, the students learned how to write and record a script, and combine the narration, music and photos.

Early in the semester, a staff member of the Center for Digital Storytelling visited campus to provide instruction in the process. According to center founder Joe Lambert, the growing availability of editing software and digital still and video cameras means that average people can become amateur filmmakers overnight. That’s reflected in the growing popularity of classes offered at the center’s Berkeley offices.

Watsonville Community School, with an enrollment of about 80 students, features a junior high and high school, a teen parent program, a summer school program and a child care center. Operated by the Santa Cruz Office of Education, the school serves teens who have run into trouble with the law or whose chronic truancy has put their education at risk.