Culture and COVID-19: Kodiak youth document their pandemic journey

KMXT has been featuring essays from a group of  Kodiak students, who have just wrapped up a summer video production workshop called “Culture and COVID-19.”

Their assignment: to produce short videos on the impact on the coronavirus pandemic on their lives. The Kodiak History Museum plans to incorporate them into a virtual museum exhibit this spring. The hope is that their work will serve as kind of a time bottle for future generations of young people, who might wonder what it was like to grow up in the grip of a worldwide pandemic in the year 2020.

For starters, the threat of COVID-19 affected the way the workshop was taught. All the sessions were moved online — as well as the final event this week, a video screening that will take place via Zoom on Thursday, September 3rd from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. The public is invited. To join in, go to, and use the following meeting ID:  825 6026 2903.

Rafael Bitanga and Marie Acemah at their Crab Festival booth. Rafael eventually took over Marie’s crepe stand. For many years, it was the only youth-run booth at the festival.

The summer workshop was a partnership between the Kodiak History Museum, Rafael Bitanga, a recent Kodiak High School graduate, and Marie Acemah, director of  See Stories, a non-profit that offers video production workshops for students.

Bitanga now attends Cornell University and has his own production company, Bitanga Productions. He took part in one of Acemah’s workshops as an 8th grader and co-taught this summer’s workshop with Acemah.

James Berestoff reviewing his essay before recording it. James and all of the students wore masks while at KMXT studios, except when they were in the recording booth — an area that was sanitized between each session.


The project is funded by the Alaska Community Foundation Social Justice Fund and the Charlotte Martin Foundation, which is dedicated to creating opportunities for youth, especially those of color.

In all, seven student interns took part in the four-week workshop, in which they met online three days a week. They ranged in age from 10 to 16.

The Kodiak History Museum founded the video workshop in 2011, but it’s been dormant for three years.

It was Bitanga who pushed for the program’s revival and shaped the vision for this summer’s project.

“I want to do something to give back to Kodiak’s young people,” he said, “and create an opportunity for them to share their unique stories and experiences through this challenging time.”

Marie Acemah says it’s also a good time for the young people to learn the power of their own voices — how they can influence community conversations on key issues.

“From first person story telling to documentary film making, they have gained tools to express themselves,” Acemah said.

She also believes the project helped to ease the sense of isolation the pandemic has caused.

“I think they will remember the connections they made with their classmates, even if it was a virtual course,” Acemah said.

In preparation for their films, each student wrote and recorded an essay for KMXT, which we’ve compiled here.


Joseph Ocampo’s essay gives insight into how deeply teens are immersed in the virtual world of video games. Then along came COVID-19. Suddenly, James could spend as much time as he wanted with technology. Would that make him happy?


Joseph Ocampo is in 10th grade. His documentary focuses on gaming, his favorite pastime — and how his feelings changed about it after COVID-19.

Got milk? Joseph Ocampo certainly has plenty of it in his school locker.

Like many of the interns in this project, Joseph was not afraid to inject his sense of humor into his work.

For anyone curious about his obscure reference to milk in his essay, he created an instagram account for his locker that involved filling it with boxed milk @apictureofmilklockersometimes.

One of the ironies, when Joseph returns to school this fall, students will not be assigned lockers, so he will have to find somewhere else to store his milk.

The Kodiak Island Borough School is not assigning lockers this year — as part of COVID-19 social distancing efforts.

Listen to Joseph Ocampo’s essay here:



James Berestoff says the video project helped him realize that his own Alutiiq culture has many powerful coping mechanisms for the pandemic.


James Berestoff is going into 9th grade. In his film, he embraces his Alutiiq heritage with help from Hannah Sholl, a local Alutiiq artist and educator.

Together they explore  the themes of  historical trauma and cultural resilience, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on Alutiiq communities.


Listen to James Berestoff’s essay here: 



Amara Timu is a quiet person by nature, but her project has allowed her to express a deep love of family.


Amara Timu is a 9th grader. Her video is about how she and her Mom adapted to COVID-19.  In her essay for KMXT, Amara talks about much she admires her mom, because she’s always busy and working hard — yet she also misses those special mother-daughter moments.

One of the gifts of the COVID quarantine is that it gave Amara a rare opportunity to enjoy her mom’s company — and even something as simple as cooking hamburgers together became very special.


Amara Timu’s family found the silver lining in the quarantines — a chance to find safety and comfort in each other.

Listen to Amara Timu’s essay here:



Scout DeVries says kids have more power to change the world than they realize.


Scout DeVries is an 8th grader, who created a documentary about the Black Lives Matter march in Kodiak. For her project, she interviewed one of the organizers, Nia Pristas and one of the participants and speakers, Robenett Sagalkin. Her video also includes two community members who took part in the march — Marcus and Charmaine Dominguez.

June 8, 2020. The Kodiak Black Lives Matter march was a powerful moment for Scout DeVries, seen here carrying a yellow sign.



Scout herself joined the March with a sign that read, “I came here to scream about equality.”

In her essay for KMXT, she talks about how the convergence of COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death ignited a passion in her to “stand up for humanity.”

Listen to Scout DeVrie’s essay here: 




Jude Villaroya starts the 6th grade this year, a young age to produce your own video. But Jude is more than ready. He already has his own YouTube channel, “Jude Likes Food.” Here, he is about to serve up a humorous look at “day in a life in quarantine.”



Jude Villaroya is a 6th grader. His video chronicles “a day in the life of COVID-19,” in which he interviews his sisters about their experiences with the quarantine. Jude has his own YouTube channel, “Jude Likes Food” in which he serves up stories, not just about food, but about whatever is on his mind — and of course, with a generous helping of humor.

Listen to Jude Villaroya’s essay here:




Jude Villaroya and his mom, Bernadette, one of the parents who helped to provide support for the interns when they recorded their essays at KMXT studios.


Luke Danelski and Tchabo Acemah are only in the 5th grade, yet they paint vivid pictures about their friendship, life at a Larsen Bay fish camp, and how it’s helped them regain a sense of normalcy in this time of coronavirus, which has taken some of the fun out of being a kid.


Luke Danelski is a 5th grader, and he created a movie collaboratively with another 5th grader, Tchabo Acemah. Their project is about the impacts of COVID-19  on set-netting in Uyak Bay, on the West Side of Kodiak Island, where his family has run a fish camp for two generations. In his radio essay, Luke shares an only-in-Alaska slice of life about Pallet Theatre.

Listen to Luke Danelski’s essay here: 


Note: Tchabo Acemah recorded his friend’s essay for him since he was still away at fish camp.  Now that’s friendship!

Listen to Tchabo Acemah’s essay here: 


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