Del Mar teacher helps students launch online fundraiser to make documentary about gun violence

By Kristina Houck

It’s been more than two years since High Tech High freshman Sean Fuchs was killed, but his presence is still felt on the Chula Vista campus.

In honor of Fuchs, students created a mural at the school. A group of students now hope to make a documentary about gun violence. “Beyond the Crossfire” is dedicated to 15-year-old Fuchs and his 13-year-old brother, Kyle, who were both shot by their father on June 21, 2011.

“Because of them, I want to make a change,” said 16-year-old Patrick Rouston, a close friend of the brothers’ since elementary school. “I want to inspire other students to make a change.”

Through the documentary, Rouston and 44 other juniors at the public charter school are on a journey to answer one question: How can they help reduce the amount of gun violence in the U.S.?

Del Mar resident and High Tech High humanities teacher Matt Simon and biology teacher Nuvia Ruland lead the class. Ruland’s best friend’s 6-year-old daughter, Avielle Richman, was shot and killed last December during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Some of the group’s other students have also been affected by gun violence.

“You don’t want to think about it, but when you go to school, it might be the last time you see [your loved ones], “ said 16-year-old Ciera Ybarra, who noted she never met her uncle because he died in a shooting before she was born. “It’s just heartbreaking. I don’t want myself, my friends, my family or anyone to live in fear.”

With the loss of the Fuchs brothers and Richman, gun violence has been a hot topic at the school, Simon said. Therefore, when the teachers met with the students to discuss project ideas, Simon said, “Gun violence naturally came up in those conversations.”

“There was a lot of debate about what, if anything, young people could do to make an impact, and how far and wide that impact might be,” said Simon, who graduated from Torrey Pines High School. “The students debated the best approach to explore the subject matter and decided that a documentary would be the strongest thing to do.”

The class launched a Kickstarter campaign on Oct. 30 to fund the production. Through the online funding platform, the class hopes to raise at least $18,000 by Dec. 14. As of Nov. 4, 108 backers have pledged $6,239 toward the project.

“Beyond the Crossfire,” Simon said, will not focus on gun rights or gun control. Instead, it will focus on the country’s mental health care system, gangs and the entertainment industry.

“They’re really tasked with exploring this issue with the complexity that we don’t often see in our society,” he said.

Before he became a teacher, Simon spent six years working in the entertainment industry. He was an associate producer on the television show “My Name is Earl” when he decided to switch careers.

He taught middle school and high school in Los Angeles for four years before coming to High Tech High, where he has become known for his discussion-based classes and inspirational speeches. Using his industry experience and connections, Simon wants to help his students create a film they can be proud to share with others.

“If we can do this right, it will be something that people can pick up and view years from now,” said Simon, who graduated from NYU film school in 2002. “Their desire is to have as many people, specifically in our country, see this as possible.”

Students hope to raise $18,000 to purchase film equipment and editing software. If they raise $40,000, the team plans to travel to Chicago or another city to meet with high school students who are dealing with gun violence. If they raise even more, they want to acquire additional HD camcorders and hire a professional editor, cinematographer and producer to help produce the film.

After the Kickstarter campaign ends, the class plans to be in production in the spring and post-production in the fall.

“We’re not just taking a test to know information; we’re actually doing something to utilize the information and make a difference,” Ybarra said.

“We want to do something this year that we hope will have a positive impact on Chula Vista, Del Mar and beyond.”

For more information or to donate to the campaign, visit