Monday, December 23, 2002

Holly Stephens, a junior, and Keone Taaca, a senior, reviewed their project entitled "Queen of Makaha" on Thursday. They plan to enter their video, a two-minute biographical sketch of late surfer Rell Sunn, in the "Island Movie" competition sponsored by the Department of Education.

Waianae video
program helps
students stand out

High schoolers have won national
acclaim at Searider Productions

By Susan Essoyan

Four beefy young men stand in an empty gymnasium, their soulful voices blending in Waianae High School's alma mater. With a swirl of lights, the scene gives way to a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of student life, set to a pulsing beat.

The music video, which won first place in a national competition last month, is just a sample of the work being turned out by students in the school's Searider Productions program -- work so professional that the students have just landed their first commercial client.

"People think that Waianae can't be up there, can't be the top, but this is the real deal," said Keoni Fernandez, a senior who edited the "Waianae Alma Mater" video and is part of the crew that will produce a 10-minute corporate video for American Healthways Inc.

Waianae High School students won five awards last month at the national Student Television Network competition, including two first-place finishes, in categories ranging from minidocumentary to music video. This month, they swept top honors in nine of 17 categories in the 'Olelo Video Recognition Awards, a local competition open to the entire community, not only students.

For award winners like Keone Taaca, a Searider photographer and editor, the recognition comes as a sweet change of pace.

"When you say you're from Waianae, people automatically stereotype you as not a good kid. They think you're into drugs or gangs," he said. "This shows that not everyone is like that."

Program coordinator Candy Suiso calls Searider Productions "the best-kept secret in Hawaii." Known as "Auntie Candy" to her students, she and her colleague, Norman Chock, launched the program in 1993. For years it has been based in a squat, concrete-block building on campus with no ventilation, an erratic electrical system and plenty of bugs.

Last summer, thanks to a $400,000 federal grant, the headquarters was transformed into the Waianae Coast Telecommunication Center, a multimedia production facility. Formally opened last month, it features a studio set, control room and array of digital media and video equipment, plus air conditioning.

"The kids came in and couldn't believe it," Suiso said, her eyes welling up. "I cried. They cried."

The center is a joint project of Leeward Community College, Waianae High School, 'Olelo Community Television, the Waianae Coast Coalition and the Hawaii Technology and Trade Association. The groups banded together to obtain the economic development grant with help from state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Suiso said.

Even before the renovations, the students had been creating prize-winning work, Suiso said. "They didn't grumble," she said. "We made do with what we had."

Last week, the center buzzed like any newsroom on deadline, with students putting final touches on the latest edition of their half-hour news show. Before returning to school from winter break, a Searider crew will go on location in Kapolei to shoot the video for American Healthways. The Nashville, Tenn.-based disease-management company has a call center in Kapolei which serves people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Scott Sivik, regional vice president, said the company chose Searider Productions because it wants to support the public schools and be "as kamaaina as we can be" while also getting a top-notch product.

"We discovered what a wonderful asset we had here, just down the street from us," he said. "The young people involved in the program are extremely professional, way beyond their years. I think they will be a tremendous asset to our economy as they move out into the real world."

The students will produce a video, aimed at doctors, showing how nurses work with patients to help them follow their diet, exercise and medication programs. In exchange, American Healthways will make a $5,000 donation to the scholarship fund that sends students to the Journalism Education Association's national high school convention.

Waianae's multimedia program is the largest of its kind in Hawaii's public schools, with more than 300 students involved, Suiso said. Along with video and audio/music recording, students produce the school newspaper, yearbook and Web site.

"There is something for everyone here," Suiso said. "We have technical people, creative people, writers, artists. Everyone finds their niche."

The program helps steer kids onto the right track, and for many it becomes a home away from home, according to John Allen III, a 1997 alumnus of Waianae High School and Searider Productions, and now the program's technical advisor.

"We like to save kids," said Allen, who works full time at KGMB but spends his days off at the center. "Kids who have a bad reputation around campus come in here, and they're like angels. They focus. They find something they like, and they get good at it and build a future."

The high-tech equipment is a draw for students. But the program requires them to write as well. Every news story is written first for the school paper and then turned around for broadcast. Students must also write out scripts, storyboards and audiovisual log sheets for their video productions.

"It really beefs up their writing skills," said Lorraine Gershun, publications adviser. "Writing for the paper forces them to go more in depth than they might if it were just for video."

Last week, Fernandez took a moment from splicing together a news story to reflect on how being involved in the center has affected him.

"This has changed the way I look at school," he said, his blue sunglasses pushed atop his dark curls. "Before, I like sleep in class because the teacher was giving me long lectures. Now I'm fascinated, I want to learn. I pay more attention. ... Now people are looking at me like, 'This kid will go far.'"

When he got home later that day, that hunch was confirmed. Fernandez rushed back to campus clutching an envelope to show Suiso. Inside was an acceptance letter from the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles.

Samples of Searider Productions' work can be seen on 'Olelo Channel 56 every Sunday at 8:30 p.m., or on the Web site

E-mail to City Desk


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