Neighbors: High-def learning

A media veteran with more than two decades of film and television experience in the islands has discovered a passion for teaching, thanks to a program that trains a new generation of videographers.

As coordinator for the Youth Broadband Education Awareness Mentoring program at Akaku: Maui Community Television, Kat Tracy has worked with around 70 isle teens to learn the basics of videography, and to document some of the untold stories in their communities.

“They shoot their story, they come back here and edit to deadline, and by the end of the day they have the story up on the website,” she said.

The free, monthlong program requires students to attend two three-hour classes per week, where they become familiar with their equipment and learn basic reporting and editing techniques.

A far cry from the bulky video cameras used by TV news crews for decades, students are provided with a kit that includes a slim iPod Touch, and a rugged case that allows the gadget to be converted into a hand-held video camera, with ports that can accommodate a variety of lenses and microphones. In addition to recording high-definition video, the device comes loaded with software that enables users to edit sound and footage on the go.

“It’s a pretty compelling platform,” Tracy says. “They keep it for the entire month. My hope is that they’ll play with it a lot – not just to do their assignments, but to really immerse themselves in it.”

For their projects, students might document community events, interview island leaders or just share a compelling story. Some of Tracy’s favorite videos have included a story on Maui’s little-known Parkour scene, a student’s documentary on Pukalani Park, a review of the latest Xbox games and interviews with local celebrities like Richard Ho’opi’i, Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom and Keli’i Tau’a.

“If the stories are compelling enough and we think they should be seen by the community, they’ll actually go to air” on Akaku, she says.

Tracy says she loves seeing how the program takes students out of their comfort zone and makes them aware of some of the important events happening in their community. It also teaches important life skills, such as giving and receiving critiques, and having the confidence to approach someone they’ve never met and ask them questions.

But an equally important part of the program is learning about media literacy. That includes discussions about “who owns the media, how it works and why some stories are told and some aren’t,” she says.

“With the glut of information our kids are exposed to now, the literacy aspect is so important,” she says.

Students who complete all course projects and reading requirements can be certified as Akaku producers, which allows them to check out equipment, produce stories for broadcast and apply for paid internships with the station, she says.

Born and raised on the Mainland, Tracy was a student at California Polytechnic State University, studying electronic technology and engineering, and spending time producing shows for the college’s radio station, when she was diagnosed with cancer in her early 20s.

She dropped out of college to undergo treatment, then traveled to the islands to learn more about her mother’s Hawaiian/Chinese roots while she was waiting to learn if the disease would return. Through her love of the ocean and water sports, Tracy connected with a crew producing videos on tow-in surfing – still a new sport in the 1980s. That connection led to a job, and Tracy spent the next 23 years freelancing in video production on Maui, working on a wide variety of projects.

In 2009, she had a chance to work with the Pai’a Youth & Cultural Center, helping youngsters produce their own public service announcements. The opportunity made her think it was time to share what she had learned with a younger generation.

“I learned that way,” she says. “Most of my experience and what I knew in the industry was all because I was mentored by people who were willing to share their knowledge.”

Not long after, she was offered the position of YBEAM coordinator at Akaku.

“Particularly the opportunity to talk about media democracy and media literacy was pretty compelling to me,” she says.

That passion is what makes Tracy good at her job, says Akaku Executive Director Jay April.

“Anyone can buy these toys,” he says, holding up a camera. “But the curriculum that Kat has put together, and the way she inspires these kids, there’s nothing like it.”

The program was one of only seven in the country to receive funding from the San Francisco-based organization Zero Divide. But the three-year grant that launched YBEAM is set to expire in June, and the program is currently looking for other funding sources.

Videos produced by students in the program can be viewed at

* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at Neighbors and The State of Aloha, written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.