- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) - After a semester studying human trafficking, Alexis Ferron says she still struggles to comprehend what possesses human beings to treat their fellow man as less than human.

“It just left me speechless sometimes, you just cannot believe that we live in this world, she said. “Especially as a female. Just talking about it makes me upset,” she said.

Ferron, a junior at East Stroudsburg High School South, spent the last three-plus months working on a documentary about human trafficking with her classmates in a gender studies course. They were to screen the documentary Friday night at Shawnee Playhouse, with the school’s “Boys by Birth, Men by Choice Club” also be performing.

Ferron’s teacher, Trish Tiernan, brought the Gender Studies and Literature course to ESS four years ago. She said her students have been mature and well prepared in handling the serious subject matter.

“It doesn’t get much worse than human trafficking,” Tiernan said. “But why we wait for them to be adults to deal with these difficult issues has baffled me.”

The documentary includes highlights from research the students did into existing reports on human trafficking. But they also went out and conducted primary source interviews. They talked to East Stroudsburg University professors, officials from Women’s Resources of Monroe County, ESU’s feminist alliance and Pocono Medical Center.

Students said they weren’t completely naive to the idea of human trafficking beforehand, but they were shocked at just how widespread the problem is. Tiernan pointed out that human trafficking is now the fastest growing crime globally, surpassing the drug trade.

Junior Jazlyn Rodriguez said she hopes that the documentary will open students’ eyes to the problem just like it did hers.

“It really did open my eyes a lot. I’m really glad we made this film. It’s going to bring awareness to a decent amount of people,” she said.

The class partnered with East Stroudsburg-based nonprofit Youth Infusion. Executive Director Erica Velander said the project was a great fit for the nonprofit, which works with teachers like Tiernan on service learning courses. In service learning courses, students do projects that require them to engage members of the community. Youth Infusion provides assistance and equipment. For the documentary, they provided the cameras and helped set up the interviews.

“We want everything to be youth-led,” Velander said. “One of the major aspects of our mission is to make the students agents of change.”

With little experience assembling videos, the students had to learn how to edit their own footage, no easy task. Rodriguez admitted that while the emotional toll of covering human trafficking was difficult, it was rivaled by the stress of learning to edit digital video.

“There were times I was about to throw a computer off a cliff,” she said.

Tiernan says the students are prepared beyond their years, not only with the awareness of social issues, but the resolve shown in finishing the project under tight deadlines and the busy spring schedule.

“Nobody even spoke about grades,” she said. “The desire to do well was what drove them.”

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