During a segment for PBS Hawaii’s HIKI NO, 16-year-old Kealakehe High School junior Nicole Wong spoke about Spirit Week festivities familiar to many high school students nationwide. Creative costumes and student activities that lead up to homecoming. A chance for students to express themselves and represent their grade levels. Everyone coming together as one big ohana.
However, Wong didn’t mention the visiting triathletes climbing on top of the Waveriders sign in the football stadium and posing for several photos. Nor did she talk about the buzzing of weed whackers, chainsaws and lawnmowers or how improper lighting caused her team to move to four different shooting locations. These were some of the unexpected interruptions and challenges that had to be overcome while filming season five of the statewide student news network.
Patience has been a reoccurring lesson for Wong, who admitted she has greater appreciation for journalists who constantly report in the field and on the fly.
Wong joined Kealakehe High’s HIKI NO team because she wanted to contribute to her community and thought it was a cool way to show what her school is all about. Even though she always gets butterflies when speaking in front of the camera, Wong likes having the opportunity and responsibility of sharing stories that matter to youth and may have not been told.
HIKI NO is an award-winning student news show that airs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on PBS Hawaii, as well as in the afternoon on the weekend. It strives to bridge the information gap through the state by sharing compelling, authentic stories from remote places and other islands, all of which offer another sense of place and another layer of understanding, said Robert Pennybacker, vice president of creative services at PBS Hawaii.
PBS Hawaii has invested heavily in the program by establishing strong relationships with local schools, as well as providing training and mentorship for students and teachers. It has also established a virtual newsroom for students to pitch ideas, submit draft scripts, upload video and develop newscasts, Pennybacker said. Tasked with meeting deadlines, the students must master 21st century skills and be effective in using real-world tools in a very real-world situation, he added.
This season, more than 80 elementary, middle and high schools are contributing stories, each conceived, reported, written, shot and edited by students under their teacher’s supervision and with guidance from PBS Hawaii. The Big Island participants include Kealakehe High; Hawaii Preparatory Academy; Kanu o ka Aina Learning Ohana; Ka’u High; Konawaena High; and West Hawaii Explorations Academy.
Some teams have a designated digital media or filmmaking class where students work on content for HIKI NO. Others work before and after school, during lunches, on weekends, and even breaks. For these teams, who’s available and willing must be taken into consideration when determining the content and jobs.
The students come up with their reports reflecting issues, experiences and communities. The Big Island teams tend to showcase the power of giving back and being involved in the community or submit human interest stories. For instance, the Kealakehe High team has covered how Habitat For Humanity volunteers helped build homes for a good cause. It is also profiling Leahi Camacho, who made headlines this summer by becoming the youngest person to swim across the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu.
Participants typically prepare as many as five drafts of their stories before they’re accepted for air by PBS Hawaii, which expects professional journalism standards from the students. HIKI NO is not intended just for youth. It draws a regular and diverse viewership of all ages. According to ratings, the show is in line with other popular prime-time PBS programming, Pennybacker said. Besides on television, episodes can be viewed on the show’s website, pbshawaii.org/hikino.
Stories are two to three minutes long. Besides the stories, this year’s teams had to create short promotional presentations about their schools, Pennybacker said.
Ari Bernstein’s digital documentary class meets three times a week at HPA, where students work various projects, including producing content for HIKI NO. While every student must create a story, only the best are sent to PBS Hawaii. Still, all can be viewed on the school’s website and YouTube channel.
On a windy Wednesday at Hapuna Beach, 17-year-old HPA senior Michael Spetich was the creative force behind a story about ocean safety and awareness. Besides reviewing his interview notes and script, he gave last minute instructions to his crew, some of whom struggled to hold on tight to flimsy reflectors.
Spetich got the idea for the story when reflecting on places, people and things that have made an impact on him. He wanted to create something that would educate and inspire. So he decided to interview veteran ocean safety officer William “Black” Abraham, someone he admires and has known through six years of his participation in the county’s Junior Lifeguard Program. He said Abraham and the program increased his self-confidence and taught him how to react properly in the ocean.
What Spetich likes most about HIKI NO is how it empowers young filmmakers by giving them a voice that otherwise might not been heard. He said the program teaches students how to become better storytellers and engaging presenters. He said it also forces students to problem solve, think more critically and creatively, collaborate, lead, and take risks — all skills needed in life.
HPA senior Kellen Gillins, 18, said his team is not afraid to tackle complex issues, including how to best deal with the invasive coqui frog, harmful diving practices or illegal fishing. The goal, he added, is to produce something the entire community will care about and can possibly learn something new. He thinks another important component is having the story told by someone you can identify with.
For his HIKI NO submission, Gillins is putting together highlights of this year’s football season while also attempting to give the viewers a unique insight of the players off the field. Gillins is a football player and thinks athletes can sometimes get tarnished reputations. He hopes to break down misconceptions and show the positive side of student athletes.
Gillins said the hardest part to any story is gathering all the background and double-checking the facts, a process that can take up to a month. Besides providing skills that will help in school and life, Gillins said HIKI NO has shown him how the power of words and how, if used correctly and thoughtfully, they can make meaningful impacts.