Virtual Reality Learning at Woodside Learning Center

Trailer for “I Am a Man,” one of the historical VR experiences offered in Megan Mercurio’s virtual reality program at Woodside Learning Center

In-person learning has returned to Woodside Learning Center at SF Juvenile Hall. Students who enter the facility must spend two weeks in a special medical intake unit to ensure they are COVID-free before joining longer term residents, which can be more isolating.

Megan Mercurio, the teacher supporting the intake unit, has created a whole new virtual education program for the short but critical time period that these students are entering the hall, using virtual reality tools and programs to explore interdisciplinary content deeply. Multiple virtual reality experiences serve as a therapeutic tool to effect healing, rehabilitation, and empathy for incarcerated youth. On the academic level, students will have access to emerging technology and work on assignments that require additional reading, writing, math, and assessments.

Students are offered a choice of what they would like to study based on their individual interests and needs. Having choices will engender students’ agency and empower them to take control of their lives through self realization and determination. Ms. Mercurio’s program includes curriculum and activities on astronomy, neuroscience/anatomy, oceanography, history, arts, life science, and international studies. There is also a meditation and therapy component.

In week one of her program, Ms. Mercurio says it’s going great. “Over the last four days the kids have toured outer space, fallen through the heart of a black hole, explored the inside of the human body, and scuba dived through coral reefs,” she says. Ms. Mercurio is also surveying the students daily to learn more about their interest in the virtual reality experiences and understanding of the subject matter.

Here are just a few of the VR experiences Ms. Mercurio’s students can choose to engage in.