Story by Paul Wood
Photos by Monte Costa
Last April a team of video journalists descended on Komoda Store in the little Maui town of Makawao. The reporters wielded high-definition cameras, wireless mikes and notepads. While some of them filmed an interview with the current store manager, others shot B-roll footage of the century-old wooden building and its glass display case loaded with glazed donuts, cream-filled long johns and the other baked sweets for which the shop is famous. Later, the team edited all that footage into a three-minute news feature that was broadcast statewide on Hawai‘i Public Television. The voice-over lacked the resonant, practiced baritone of a Dan Rather or Peter Jennings —instead, viewers were treated to the somewhat shaky but cheerful tenor of a 12- year-old named Colin Sheen. The crack journalists covering the Komoda Store were all seventh-graders.
They’d come from a school, Seabury Hall, located a mile from the store, and they were on the story because they’d signed up for an elective “exploratory” class that connected them with Hawai‘i’s PBS station and its groundbreaking Hiki No program—a unique initiative that is dedicated to teaching secondary, intermediate and even elementary school kids to create in-depth feature journalism.
The first statewide student news service in the United States, Hiki No premiered on PBS Hawai‘i in February 2011. The name means “can do” in Hawaiian, and these thirty-minute shows are broadcast every Thursday evening at 7:30. A “host school” presents each episode from its campus but also folds in features created by public, private and charter schools from all islands. “It’s like a magazine format. Being there at the school holds things together,” says Robert Pennybacker, executive producer of Hiki No. “Our goal is to do twenty-four new episodes in a year and then repeat them once, forty-eight weeks out of the year, and then some specials. It’s quite a challenge.”
The first show of this season, hosted by Maui Waena Intermediate School, was typically Hiki No-esque. Segments of two or three minutes in length offered these revelations: The practice of “dropping weight”—which happens when school athletes work off pounds in a hurry to qualify for a lower weight class — creates health risks. Eri Yoshida, the “Knuckleball Princess,” a professional Japanese pitcher, is playing for a Maui baseball team. Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School is struggling to find a balanced policy on student use of new electronic devices like smart-phones. Music classes at Konawaena High School on Hawai‘i Island are helping students envision careers in the music industry. A female senior at H.P. Baldwin High School on Maui is a nationally competitive motocross racer. Wai‘anae Intermediate School in West O‘ahu is offering “Adapted P.E.” classes to students with disabilities. Mililani Middle School in central O‘ahu closed the episode with a high-spirited pitch for staying fit by shutting off the electronics and going outside.
All such reports are selected, researched, written, shot, voiced and edited by the students. Choosing topics is typically an open, democratic process. In other words, as one student put it, “We argue a lot.”
I met with three of the students on the team covering the Komoda Store at a picnic table on the school’s lunchroom lanai. All three were funny and fast-talking —Colin, rosy-cheeked with a ready smile; Darby Mulligan, bright and slender; and Patricia Sung, who along with her identical twin is temporarily afflicted with elaborate orthodontic gear. When I asked a question, all three answered instantly and simultaneously at super-speed.
“I love computers and technology,” said Patricia. “I have a passion for it, and I love it.” Said Colin, “I love filming.” The most difficult part of the process, the three agreed, was dealing with too much information, too much footage, too many elements to the story. “It’s hard to decide what we can’t be able to keep,” said Darby. “The story has to get to the point.”
I knew that PBS had sent the three back to revise their work multiple times—standard practice on Hiki No stories. “What? I have to do it again?” is a refrain teachers often hear when they ask school-kids to redo work. In this case, however, there was none of that. “That’s typical,” said Patricia of the revisions. “If it’s going on PBS, it has to be good.” Added Colin, “We’re learning the process needed to make something perfect.”