Stikine Middle School students and science teacher, Laura Davies, worked hard on their STEAM projects. Some will be presented at the Stikine Stories Film Festival on May 14, 2024. (Colette Czarnecki/KSTK)

Sixth grader Erika Jabusch and her brother, Jimmy, recently interviewed their grandfather, Jeff Jabusch, for a documentary they were producing about the Wrangell Hoop Shoot.

“The reason I picked that project, well, my brother was already doing it and our grandpa is the Hoop Shoot organizer, so it kind of connects us,” she said.

Her project is one of 17 documentaries that middle school students started working on in November. The media projects are part of the Stikine Middle School’s STEAM class, which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math and some will be presented at the Stikine Stories Film Festival.

Erika has never made a documentary before. She said a lot goes into making one. They had to gather pictures, interview their grandfather and edit the video.

“It was such a relief to finish after five months of hard work,” she said. “Also, I like to just learn more about Wrangell history and going to the after school clubs to See Stories was really fun.”

See Stories is a non-profit organization based in Juneau. They put on workshops that was supported through a Department of Education and Early Development grant, which helps teachers throughout the state learn how to make documentaries. Middle school science teacher Laura Davies was able to train under the group last spring. It allowed Davies to pass those skills to her students.

“Stikine Stories is our club name that we made and the reason we call it Stikine Stories is because we’re at Stikine Middle School, we’re on the Stikine,” she said. “See Stories is kind of like our parent, like they’re guiding us…it’s the first film festival that Stikine Stories is putting on by themselves.”

She said there were challenges, like learning how to use the equipment and dealing with work that was accidentally deleted.

“The whole thing of being in Wrangell is figuring things out on your own,” Davies said. “Luckily students learn technology, learn how to use technology really fast and often learn faster than me.

She said she embraces the students helping and learning alongside her. She also really enjoys watching the students grow.

“I like watching students who have some self doubt at the beginning be able to do something they thought they couldn’t do,” Davies said. “I like students getting excited about asking questions and taking a leadership role and being mature when they interact with community members.”

Many times, the community members are also family. Davies said she witnesses a bond form between them as they tell their stories.

“I’ve met grandparents through this and I’ve listened to the grandparents’ stories,” she said. “There’s like a sense of pride with the grandparent working with their grandchild, but also the grandchild interviewing their loved one, and then I’m there to witness it all. So there’s just this really cool connection there.”

She said this STEAM project is important because the students get to be creative.

Not all students made a documentary though. Some, including eighth grader Kailyn McCutcheon, made podcasts. 

McCutcheon interviewed author Walker T. Brown about growing up in both the U.S. and Japan.

“I asked her, ‘What were your experiences schooling in Japan?’,” she said. “I asked her about her family. She lived in Kansas. So I asked her how living in Kansas was.”

McCutcheon worked on the podcast herself and she said it was an easy process for her. She liked many parts that went into creating the story.

“I enjoyed talking to her, mainly just learning more about her,” she said. “Maybe with the editing I enjoyed figuring out the music and just learning more about the whole editing experience.”

The students will complete 17 documentaries and six podcasts by the end of the year. Davies said at least 10 will be shown at the film festival.

The Stikine Stories Film Fest will play at the Nolan Center at 6:30 Tuesday evening. The event is free to the public.