Jennifer & Don Suzuki – Shaping Maui Waena Winners
By Susan Halas
Jennifer Suzuki is a veteran English teacher at Maui Waena School. Her husband Don is an electrical engineer who she’s roped into volunteering on her projects.
These days the couple is better known as the moving force behind the school’s very successful digital media and robotics program.
You may have heard about the young people in her media club – the 6th, 7th and 8th graders – who attended a national Student Television Network convention in Dallas, Texas. It was an event with more than 1,800 participants. The Maui Waena team competed in a variety of categories. Their entry, produced on location and on deadline, finished first in the “Sweet 16” and they took a number of other honors as well. See their video at http://vimeo.com/39847192
Falcon Entertainment Much in Demand
If that’s not enough, the students also have their own production company: Falcon Entertainment and Engineering. (That’s FE2 for short.) Since winning the Texas award the students have been much in demand. Requests for their services include spots for the Maui United Way and an invitation from Meadow Gold Dairy to work on promo materials. (“Maybe we’ll get paid.”)
These kids may look 12 or 13 years old, but their level of accomplishment, poise and creativity would be notable in folks many years older.
Maui Now visited their classroom filled with computers and equipment for learning digital media. We met the students, we viewed the finished product, and frankly we were impressed. Though we missed the robotics portion, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that might be impressive too.
This couple’s enthusiasm is infectious. She gives him a lot of credit. He gives her even more. For her “the story is what counts.” For him it is “self image, self perception. It’s about a sense of pride, feeling smart.”
And frankly, it’s not everybody who would want to teach a full day, have a jam-packed after-school club for media, and then three nights a week bring the whole tribe home to work some more on robotics into the evening hours and weekends.
Always a Book Person
Jenn (or “Miss” as her students call her) was always a “book person” and liked teaching English. Her introduction to the world of media is fairly recent and was largely “learn as you go.”
Don (or ‘Uncle Don” to the kids) thinks “you can grow by leaps and bounds if you believe you can.” It doesn’t hurt a bit if the adults around you encourage you to do your best and aim high.
“Around here it’s not will I do it, it’s how will I do it?” He helps with the tech side. He drives the van. He gives high marks to the staff at Maui High School where a lot of Maui Waena’s kids go on to more advanced work.
She credited her principal with giving her “the opportunity to try something new” and mentioned a long list of other teachers, chaperones, media professionals, companies, parents, grants and contests that have helped these kids develop a high degree of proficiency in a short time.
Her own learning curve took a leap in the summer of 2010 when she took a group of students to visit Searider Productions, a tech program at Waianae High School. That week of instruction covered the basics. From there it was catch as catch can.
“I already knew about storytelling, but I needed to learn about technology. When I need to know how something works, I Google it.”
“You Have to Be Fearless”
How do the kids find the program?
“If they don’t go into band or art, then they end up here. And, “well yes, there are a lot of them. About 15 or 20 come after school every day. Another ten or so come three or four times a week.”
“Between media and robotics those kids spend like 30 hours a week on this stuff.” In her view, “You have to be fearless; you can not be afraid.”
Suzuki pointed out that for many of her students where English is not their first language, “these kids might be tracked with low expectations.” But Jennifer and Don Suzuki don’t believe in low expectations. Their motto is: “Hard things take time; impossible things take a little longer.”