Kauai High Digital Media, STEM programs making waves

LIHUE — Kauai High School’s Digital Media and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs have been turning heads — not just on Kauai, but across the state.

The 14th annual Olelo Youth Xchange Statewide Student Video Competition was held recently at the Sheraton Waikiki Resort on Oahu, where over 800 educators and students celebrated the winners and finalist videos.

But before the competition took place on April 27, sophomore Tiffany Sagucio was at the breaking point of her short video project for the competition.

She and her partner, Brandon Marcos, were becoming more frustrated with each passing day, so when it was time to submit their project, Sagucio didn’t care what happened next.

“It was really stressful, honestly. It was the first time that I ever fought with (Marcos) because it was so stressful,” Sagucio said. “And we didn’t even think about it getting nominated as a finalist, we just wanted to turn it in and be like ‘Whatever, we don’t care.’”

After finishing, Sagucio put the project to the back of her mind. But then she and Marcos learned they’d won first place in the short video category at the Olelo competition.

“Once we found out we got first place, I was in tears. I was so shocked,” Sagucio said.

Sagucio and Marcos won with their video, “The Bigger Picture,” which is centered around people’s dependence on technology; in particular, their smartphones.

“In this generation, it’s all about technology, phones, Snapchat and Instagram. So my partner and I wanted to make a video about phone awareness and how we shouldn’t take nature for granted,” Sagucio said. “We wanted to just tell the world that the world is a much bigger place than just their screens.”

They weren’t the only Kauai students who earned success on the state level.

Marlena Lang, Leanna Thesken, Haven Luper-Jasso and Brooke Kanna were recognized for their presentation on Kauai High’s STEM program at the 2017 PBS Hawaii’s Hiki No Awards in March, where the four juniors presented a video and PowerPoint presentation.

It was a process that Lang called an “eye-opening experience.”

“It was really exciting and nerve-wracking. It was a really different experience than what we’re used to,” Lang said.

Placing first in the high school division for best writing and third for best franchise piece, the four juniors — who call their team “Foursquare” — were out of their comfort zone but managed to put on quite the presentation, said Thesken.

“It was good insight into the future and what we can do in the business world and how we can incorporate media,” Thesken said.

The four juniors have worked together since middle school, where they joined forces at CKTV at Chiefess Kamakahelei. They didn’t just learn about video production; they also learned about their classmates and the amount of work they do.

“We had to learn about our own STEM program at our school and I heard about some of it, but when we learned it, it made us very proud of our school because wow, we’re doing all these cool things,” Luper-Jasso said.

Kanna was also selected to be a PBS Newshour SRL Fellow this summer. She is looking forward to representing her school on the Mainland.

“I don’t think any of us realized how much work the other students put into this,” she said. “And we’d like to get these voices heard.”

Leah Aiwohi, the Digital and Broadcast Media, Design Technology and STEM teacher at Kauai High, is the driving force in the classroom and a key reason the programs are so successful, but she credits her students for the work they do.

“I look forward to the time that we can celebrate their accomplishments. It’s more of an affirmation for them to see how their projects measure up with work from other schools and to see that they’re producing quality work,” Aiwohi said. “It’s exciting, but it’s not only about the awards. I think it brings them together because they can support each other and cheer each other on.”

Aiwohi was selected to be among 52 teachers nationwide to serve as Hawaii’s PBS Digital Innovator next year.

“It was incredible,” Aiwohi said of being named a Digital Innovator. “But it’s not really me. It’s really a reflection of the work our students have been doing. Because I get to work with students from freshmen year to senior year, I don’t want the work that they do to become repetitive. I try to challenge them with different experiences and opportunities so hopefully they’ll continue to grow.”

But KHS Principal Anne Kane wasn’t going to let Aiwohi hide behind her students.

“She puts in way more hours, she probably puts in about 80 hours for her job. And then the travel on top of it,” Kane said. “I think she really puts her everything into the work of her students. She’s always on the cutting edge of what’s the next thing to challenge her students with. She’s always encouraging her students and it just makes our high school’s STEM and media program blossom.”

Kauai High’s Digital Media and STEM programs have been a bright spot for Kane, who couldn’t be prouder of her students.

“The contests validate the quality and rigor the kind of media and STEM-type projects that the kids do. Whether you win it or whether you’re in third place, it validates that your work that you’re in the running,” Kane said. “There’s a lot of people out there and we put a focus on taking the students to the next level of competition to see the quality of their work.”

Using 3D printers, Fusion 360 technology and even building prosthetic hands, Kauai High’s STEM program is cutting edge, said senior Demetrio Castillo. Castillo said if other students knew what they were doing in the classroom, they would be blown away.

“It would surprise them, 100 percent,” Castillo said. “Things like this, it’s special.”

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